The wreckage of a Portuguese ship more than 500 years old – the earliest found from Europe’s Age of Discovery – has been discovered and excavated off the coast of Oman, archaeologists announced.
The Esmeralda was commanded by Vicente Sodre, the uncle of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, and sank off the coast of Al Hallaniyah island in Oman’s Dhofar region in 1503.
Although researchers found the wreck site in 1998, full-scale surveys and excavation did not begin until 2013.
The team from the UK-based Blue Water Recoveries and the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture determined the debris came from the long-lost ship, which went missing in a violent storm.
Archaeologists found over 2800 artefacts in the wreck, including a bronze bell with an inscription dating back to 1498, golden coins from the era, and a copper-alloy disc stamped with the Portugese royal coat of arms and an “esfera armilar” – a personal emblem of Dom Manuel I, the then-king of Portugal.
They also found an “extraordinarily rare silver coin” called an Indio – the rarity of which is such that it has “legendary status as the ‘lost’ or ‘ghost’ coin of Dom Manuel”, Blue Water Recoveries said in a statement.
The adviser to the minister for heritage affairs in Oman, Hassan Al Lawati, said the project was regarded as the first of its kind conducted in Oman.
“We appreciate the joint efforts of the local and international entities and institutes that made this project a huge success,” he said.
“This project differs from the majority of maritime archaeology projects in that we set out to specifically find the wreck site of the Sodre ships, using a survivor’s and other historical accounts, because of their very early age and the potential they held for new discoveries,” Project Director David Mearns said.
“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.”
The findings have been released in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.