Midhurst shipwreck hunter leads discovery of 500 year old ship

David Mearns

David Mearns

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AN expedition led by Midhurst based Blue Water Recoveries, has uncovered the 500-year-old wreck site of what it claims is the earliest ship ever found from Europe’s ‘Age of Discovery’.

A Portuguese vessel captained by an uncle of the legendary explorer Vasco da Gama, Vicente Sodre, the Esmeralda was one of two ships that sank off the coast of Oman in 1503, only five years after Da Gama discovered the first sea route from Europe to India.

After three years of excavation and historical and scientific research, the archaeologists, which included teams from Bournemouth University and Oman’s ministry of culture, announced they had found the site of the wreck, and with it a collection of 2,800 artefacts.

David Mearns, director of Blue Water Recoveries, who specialises in the search and recovering of shipwrecks, said the major significance of the find was the date of the sinking of the Esmeralda.

He told the Guardian: “This is the earliest ship -from the period of European maritime exploration of Asia - that has been found by a long stretch.”

Because it broke up in shallow waters, very little of the ship itself has survived, but the artefacts were uncovered from the sand in the bay.

Among them was an incredibly rare silver coin of which only one other is known to exist.

However David said the most exciting discovery was a metal disc bearing the Portuguese coat of arms and an image of a sphere which was the personal emblem of the then King of Portugal.

“There’s no doubt it’s a very important object, it’s got these two iconic symbols, they don’t just stamp those things on to any piece of equipment on a ship.”

He said the project differed from other 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.”

The findings were published on Tuesday (March 15) by The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Last year David led operations to bring the historic bell of HMS Hood, sunk in 1941, to the surface 14 years after it was pictured.

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