Mystery at sea deepens: Archeologists discover two more shipwrecks off Galveston

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by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News

WHAS11.com

Posted on July 25, 2013 at 10:27 PM

GALVESTON, Texas -- Breaking news from the briny deep. Underwater archeologists searching a shipwreck site off the coast of Galveston report they’ve made another surprise discovery: Sunken debris from two more ships dating back two centuries.

After a week at sea salvaging the debris from a lost vessel submerged 4,200 feet under the sea -- and finding everything from anchors to muskets to cannons – the crew of a research vessel borrowed from the man who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic decided to take a look around.

It seems the Shell Oil survey crew that spotted the site in 2011 also saw some intriguing stuff at a couple of areas nearby. And lo, a few miles away from the original wreck site, they found debris from two other ships that may have been part of a small convoy.

“Oh, man, words really can’t describe what I was thinking,” said Fritz Hanselmann, the Chief Underwater Archeologist at Texas State University, one of the crew involved in the discovery. “Because I can speak for most of us, we were just kind of awestruck.”

The newly discovered shipwrecks offered tantalizing clues into the past. In addition to everything from a bell to remnants of a wheel, one of the ships contained rolls of leather hides and tallow, which would have been valuable cargo in the early 19th century. Another vessel was armed with cannon and muskets.

“These types of weapons would be really good for the kinds of cargo you would see with gun running and privateering as well,” said Amy Borgens, a state marine archeologist with the Texas Historical Commission.

Privateers were basically legalized pirates, sanctioned by governments to raid vessels from rival countries.

Archeologists and historians picking through the debris brought ashore now theorize the armed ship may have been a privateer that captured the other vessels.

“The possibility of this being a privateer -- or somebody that had gone beyond privateering -- is a possibility, that these were prizes of a privateer,” said Jim Delgado, director of NOAA’s Marine Heritage Program. “It could be that, rather than that, this is somebody protecting two vessels, not having captured them but instead trying to keep them from being captured.”

Under the salvage rules followed by this expedition, the crew used an underwater robotic vehicle to retrieve artifacts from the first shipwreck but it didn’t touch second or third sites. Researchers are already talking about returning to the site to pick up artifacts from the two other shipwrecks.

The expedition cost $300,000, all of which came from private sources, Delgado said.

“This has just gotten more complex, but we’ve learned some important clues,” Delgado said. “Instead of one wreck lost, looks like these three were lost together. And now, as Holmes would say, the game is afoot.”

Click here to watch videos of the shipwreck.

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