Wreckage of Lost Ship of Vasco da Gama is Found and Contains Thousands of Artifacts
A ship which was a part of the legendary Vasco da Gama’s Portuguese fleet that reached India has been found close to Al Hallaniyah island, near the coast of Oman. According to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, the ship is believed to be the Esmeralda, a ship from the second voyage led by Vasco da Gama (1502-1503).
According to National Geographic, the wreck was located in 1998, when scuba divers spent 20 minutes underwater and found an unknown wreck. The exploration started fifteen years later. In 2013, a group led by David Mearns of the company Bluewater Recoveries Ltd. started work on the site. For two years, with the support of the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture and the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council, the group of underwater archaeologists explored the site.
Al Hallanyiah Island and an aerial photo of wreck site. (Esmeralda Shipwreck)
The results of the exploration were introduced with six months of research provided by Mearns. With his team, he was looking for the potential locations of two Portuguese ships, the Esmeralda and the São Pedro. Mearns describes the story of searching for the Esmeralda to National Geographic:
"Our team stood on top of the island and watched the waves come in, and put themselves in the place of the Portuguese, where they would have anchored and where the storm would dash them along the coastline. Then they snorkeled around and in 20 minutes started seeing cannonballs that were obviously from a European ship."
Some of the underwater excavations of the Esmeralda. (Esmeralda Shipwreck)
In 2016, the team of Blue Water Recoveries returned to the Al Hallaniyah island with Oman's Ministry of Heritage and Culture. During a conference in March 2016, they finally confirmed that the ship that was the object of their exploration is the Esmeralda. The ship sank in a storm in May 1503. It was commanded by Vicente Sodré, who was the maternal uncle of Vasco da Gama and a descendent of the nobleman Frederick Sudley of the UK.
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The ‘V-S’ Mark in a Cannon Ball found with the wreck. (Esmeralda Shipwreck)
The report published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology says that the key artifacts which helped to identify the wreck were a copper-alloy disc marked with the Portuguese royal coat of arms, and an esfera armilar (armillary sphere) - a personal emblem of Dom Manuel I. Apart from this, two other useful artifacts they found for identifying the ship were 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.
The Esmeralda shipwreck was not looted, so the site brought thousands of artifacts, which are still being examined by the researchers. Among them, one of the most precious seems to be a ship's bell. It was discovered in 2013.
For sailors, the bell has been always sort of the heart of a ship. The bell is fractured in two pieces. Its crown is missing, leaving a rectangular hole on its top and there is a long vertical crack running from the waist of the bell to the lip. A part from that, the bell is complete and in surprisingly good condition. It is decorated with a series of ten bead lines and an inscription which is barely visible.
The bronze ship’s bell. (Oman’s Ministry of Heritage & Culture (MHC) and Blue Water Recoveries Ltd)
The expedition in search of the Esmeralda became a very important project for both Oman and Portugal. As the adviser to the Minister for Heritage Affairsm, Hassan Al Lawati, said to Trade Arabia:
“This project is regarded as the first that is conducted in Oman and the region in underwater archeology. 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 archeology 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."
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It is possible that the artifacts will be shared between a few museums in the future.
A selection of some of the beads (White Agate and Carnelian) and coins (a silver Indio and Gold Cruzeiro) found at the Esmeralda shipwreck site. (Esmeralda Shipwreck)
The dream of people in the late 15th and 16th centuries, about reaching India through the sea, became a reality due to the bravery of Vasco da Gama's crew. Columbus was unsuccessful in his search for the western maritime route to India, but he landed in the New World. Vasco da Gama, however, reached India during his first expedition in 1498. He returned to India two more times, in 1502 and 1527.
“Vasco da Gama lands at Calicut, May 20, 1498.” (c. 1880) By Ernesto Casanova. (Public Domain)
Vasco da Gama died in India during his last expedition, but his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539. Nowadays, he’s a Portuguese hero and his tomb is located in the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém - one of the biggest tourist attractions in Lisbon.
The tomb of Vasco da Gama, in the Jerónimos Monastery, Lisbon. (Alvesgaspar/ CC BY SA 4.0)
Featured Image: The underwater archaeologists found dozens of cannonballs at the wreck site. (David Mearns, National Geographic Creative)