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1500s Portuguese ship wreck explored

Mar 31, 2016
Divers excavate Esmeralda site.

Divers excavate Esmeralda site.

esmeraldashipwreck.com/

Experienced sailors know not to anchor on the windward side, but it was a lesson relatives of famed Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama learned the hard way some five centuries ago. 

The Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Blue Water Recoveries this month announced this month the discovery of a wooden ship believed to be Esmeralda off Al Hallaniyah Island off Oman. Capt. Vicente Sodre, de Gama's uncle, was captain of Esmeralda, considered part of de Gama’s trading fleet with India. 

"The ship, which sank in a storm in May 1503 off the coast of Al Hallaniyah island in Oman’s Dhofar region, is the earliest ship from Europe’s Age of Discovery ever to be found and scientifically investigated by a team of archaeologists and other experts," according to esmeraldashipwreck.com, a website devoted to the wreck and its recovery.

The Washington Post reported Esmeralda and another ship were anchored on the exposed northern side of Al Hallaniyah Island. The vessels broke free of their moorings and slammed into the rocky shore. Both vessels sank and Esmeralda’s crew went down with the ship. 

A team from Blue Water Recoveries of West Sussex, England, found the wreck during a two-week search in 1998, some 500 years after Vasco De Gama discovered the route to India around the Cape of Good Hope. The Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture completed an archeological survey in 2013, and subsequent excavations took place in 2014 and 2015. 

The surveys yielded an impressive trove of artifacts, including a copper-metal disc with the Royal coat of arms emblematic of King Dom Manuel I and a bronze bell suggesting the ship dates to 1498. Teams also found gold coins minted in Lisbon around the year 1500 and a rare silver coin called the Indio that King Dom Manuel commissioned specifically for trade with India. 

“The extreme rarity of the Indio (there is only one other known example in the world) is such that it has legendary status as the ‘lost’ or ‘ghost’ coin of Dom Manuel,” the shipwreck website said.

Archaeological Director Dave Parham of Bournemouth University said the weapons and armaments found at the site prove the “martial nature” of these voyages. 

“The site has the potential to tell us much more about the men and ships that undertook these adventures and the peoples that they encountered,” he said in a statement. 

Surveys of the wreckage are continuing. 

“This project differs from the majority of maritime archaeology projects in that we set out to specifically find the wreck site of the Sodré ships, using a survivor’s and other historical accounts, because of their very early age and the potential they held for new discoveries,” project director David Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries said in a statement.  

“It is extremely gratifying therefore that this strategy has paid off with such interesting revelations even though we are still at a relatively early stage in the study of the artifact assemblage.”

To read more about the wreck and the ongoing excavation, visit http://esmeraldashipwreck.com

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