Oman’s Ministry of Heritage & Culture (MHC) in cooperation with Blue Water Recoveries (BWR) of UK 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 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 scientfically investigated by a team of archaeologists and other experts.
Details of the wreck site reveal that the ship is believed to be the nau Esmeralda commanded by Vicente Sodré.
Key artefacts that helped in identification of the wreck site as Vicente Sodré’s nau Esmeralda include:
- 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,
- a bronze bell with an inscription that suggests the date of the ship was 1498,
- gold cruzado coins minted in Lisbon between 1495 and 1501,
- an extraordinarily rare silver coin, called the Indio, commissioned by Dom Manuel in 1499 specifically for trade with India. The extreme rarity of the Indio (there is only one other known example in the world) is such that it has legendary status as the ‘lost’ or ‘ghost’ coin of Dom Manuel.
His Excellency Hassan Al Lawati the 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.”
“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 suvivor’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,” said Project Director David L. Mearns.