Muscat: The 500-year-old wreckage of Portuguese ship piloted by an uncle of explorer Vasco da Gama that was found off the coast of Oman recovered nearly 2,800 prized artefacts that are likely to shed new light on maritime trade and naval warfare in the region.
Archaeologists said on Tuesday that the discovery also included the recovery of an incredibly rare coin.
The Esmeralda sank during a violent storm near the Al Hallaniyah island in the Indian Ocean in May 1503, killing commander Vicente Sodre and all those aboard.
Also among the artifacts were 12 rare gold coins, in addition to many shells and a brass bell that belongs to one of the sunken ships.
The project was carried out in four phases, starting in 1998, then continuing in 2013, 2014 and finally by the end of 2015.
Beginning in 2013, a team from the British company Blue Water Recoveries and the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture explored a site in the island’s Ghubbat Al Rahib Bay. They later determined the debris found there came from the long-missing ship, one of two lost in the storm from da Gama’s second voyage to India.
Among the stone shot, ceramics, a bell and other debris, divers discovered an incredibly rare silver coin called an Indio, of which only one other is known to exist today, said David L. Mearns, the director of Blue Water Recoveries. The coins were forged in 1499 after da Gama’s first voyage to India, which helps date the wreckage, he said.
“That was an amazing discovery,” Mearns said. “It was like a thing you read about in a Hollywood story.”
One of the most significant finds is a bronze bell with inscription that told the date of the ship was 1498.
Some of the artifacts will be displayed in the National Museum in the capital Muscat after maintenance works.
Ahmad Al Siyabi, a specialist in archaeology and a diver at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, recorded the highest diving time for excavation and discovery of the ship in 2014 and 2015. He dived for 50 hours in 2014 and 51 hours in 2015.
The archaeologists announced their findings in an article published Tuesday by The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.
Ayoub Al Busaidi, the supervisor of marine archaeology at the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture, said this marked the first underwater excavation carried out by his country. He said it inspired officials to continue to explore the waters around the sultanate for other finds.
“Oman is now looking at outside archives to read about the relationships and trade between Oman and the outside” world, Al Busaidi said.
Hassan Bin Mohammad Al Lawati, Adviser to the Minister of Heritage and Culture for Heritage said the discovery was the first of its kind in the sultanate and the region which is being implemented in the field of underwater archaeological excavation.
He explained that the ministry has sought to implement the project in highly efficient and professional manner in cooperation with specialised international house of expertise, adding that the ministry abides by international standards adopted by the UNESCO for the protection of underwater archaeology, in particular the UNESCO Convention of 2001.
He pointed out that the project has provided a wonderful opportunity in the area of national capacity building in terms of training the Omani national team at all relevant areas to underwater archaeology excavation.
- with inputs from AP