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Vasco da Gama shipwreck discovered off Oman coast

MUSCAT/ LONDON, March 15, 2016

Oman's Ministry of Heritage & Culture (MHC) has announced the discovery and archaeological excavation of a Portuguese East Indiaman that was part of Vasco da Gama's 1502-1503 Armada to India.

The announcement was made in collaboration with Blue Water Recoveries Ltd (BWR) of West Sussex, UK.

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.

Details of the wreck site, published today in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology reveal that the ship is believed to be the nau Esmeralda commanded by Vicente Sodré, who was the maternal uncle of Vasco da Gama and a descendent of the nobleman Frederick Sudley of Gloucestshire, UK.

 A website with high-resolution images and video of the excavation was also launched today (esmeraldashipwreck.com).

The wreck site was initially discovered by BWR in 1998, on the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's epic discovery of the direct sea route to India, but full-scale archaeological survey and excavation by the MHC didn't begin until 2013.

Since then two more excavations have been conducted in 2014 and 2015, with more than 2,800 artefacts being recovered. The project has been jointly managed by the MHC and David L Mearns of BWR and has been conducted in strict compliance with the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage of 2001.

Key artefacts that helped in identification of the wreck site as Vicente Sodré's nau Esmeralda include an important copper-alloy disc marked with the Portuguese royal coat of arms and an esfera armilar (armillary sphere) - a personal emblem of Dom Manuel I, a bronze bell with an inscription that suggests the date of the ship was 1498 and gold cruzado coins minted in Lisbon between 1495 and 1501, among others.

Hassan Al Lawati, adviser to the Minister for Heritage Affairs said: “This project is regarded as the first that is conducted in Oman and the region in underwater archaeology. Therefore, the Ministry has taken a proactive approach to ensure that the project will be efficiently conducted. This was done by involving the expertise in underwater archaeology and by working under international regulations such as the UNESCO convention of 2001. We appreciate the joint efforts of the local and international entities and institutes that made this project a huge success."

David L Mearns, project director said: "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.”

“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 artefact assemblage," he added. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Heritage | Shipwreck |

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