Archaeologists have discovered the wreckage of a 17th century ship they believe to be from the famed Captain Henry Morgan’s fleet, lost off the coast of Panama in 1671.
The shipwreck was found on the Lajas Reef at the mouth of the Chagres River. The wreck is believed to be one of the boats lost as Morgan stormed Panama City in an attempt to take the Castillo de San Lorenzo, a Spanish fort on the cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the only water passageway between the Caribbean and the capital city. Although his men ultimately prevailed, Morgan lost five ships to the rough seas and shallow reef surrounding the fort.
In the 17th century, Morgan sailed as a privateer on behalf of England, defending the Crown’s interests and pioneering expeditions to the ‘New World.’ Today, Morgan is perhaps best known as the inspiration for the famed Captain Morgan’s rum.
Check out the video below to see the archaeologists in action
The team uncovered roughly 52×22 feet of the starboard side of a wooden ship’s hull and a series of unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral. The artifacts were buried deep beneath a thick layer of sand and mud.
Ballast stones and iron concretions (the hull’s ‘ribs’) were also found. The ship was found with the help of a magnetometer survey, an underwater archaeological technique used to locate anomalies in the magnetic field below the surface of the water. The funding for the expedition was provided by Captain Morgan rum.
“For us, the real treasure is the shipwrecks themselves, which can give us the ability to accurately tell the story of a legendary historical figure like Captain Henry Morgan,” said Frederick “Fritz” H. Hanselmann, underwater archaeologist and Research Faculty with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University. “Discoveries of this nature allow us to study these artifacts and teach others what life was like for these famous privateers more than three hundred years ago.”
Due to the shallow waters and close proximity to the coast, treasure hunters have stolen many of the artifacts of monetary value, like gold coins, from the surrounding areas. In an attempt to help save the historic site from looting, the dive team is working closely with the Panamanian government to study and carefully preserve artifacts, which are an integral part of Panama’s history and heritage.
In September 2010, the team recovered six iron cannons from a nearby site also believed to be from one of the notorious Welsh privateer’s ships. Six more were found in March 2011.
Artifacts and future relics will remain the property of the Panamanian government and will be preserved and displayed by the Patronato Panama Viejo.