Photo: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ocean exploration ship the Okeanos Explorer made an exciting discovery on May 16 — while conducting an “engineering dive” in the Gulf of Mexico to test new remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipment, they found the wreck of what is likely a mid-19th-century wooden sailing vessel.

Why This Matters:  This unexpected find just goes to show how much we don’t know about what lies at the bottom of the sea.  We have explored so little of it. What makes this discovery different is that when they came upon the vessel, they were able to take high-definition video using the ROVs to systematically explored the wreck site. When they discovered the wreck, the scientists on board made a “flurry of phone calls and emails” to marine archaeologists around the country, and then experts tuned in to live video from the seafloor and were able to provide their expertise as they virtually joined the dive.

Name That Ship?  According to NOAA, the archaeologists who joined the live stream suspect that the wreck is that of a sailing vessel built sometime in the mid-19th century, perhaps a schooner or brig, measuring roughly 37.8 meters (124 feet) long. The vessel is wooden with copper sheathing covering the bottom of its hull.

What Treasure Is Buried With the Ship?   Initial observations noted that there were copper and iron artifacts at the site, but no artifacts reflecting the vessel’s rig, trade, nationality, or crew were identified during the dive.

Great Ball of Fire:  The high-resolution video shows that a number of timbers appeared charred and some of the fasteners were bent, which may be an indication of burning. While the evidence is still being assessed, it is possible that this sailing vessel caught fire and was nearly completely consumed before sinking.

To Literally Go Deeper:  You can watch the NOAA video here and the CNN story about the discovery here.

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