Shipwreck Linked to Famed Explorer Da Gama

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March 20, 2016

Archaeological research has confirmed that a shipwreck first discovered nearly 20 years ago is part of a fleet that traveled with famed explorer Vasco Da Gama.

Da Gama sailed for Portugal on a trip to India in 1498. He was the first European explorer to reach India by sea. It was on his second voyage, five years later, that the ship, now identified as the Esmeralda, traveled. Not all of the ships returned to Portugal from India. The Esmeralda was one of two ships left behind and was sunk in 1503 in a trade dispute.

The sailors aboard the Esmeralda and the Sao Pedro were left behind when Da Gama took the rest of the ships home to Portugal. The ships left behind were given orders to protect Portugal’s trade route to India from interference by other European countries. Da Gama was confident that his orders would be followed because he left each ship under the command of one of his uncles. However, his uncles did not do as he commanded and instead sailed into the Gulf of Aden and began looting ships from Middle Eastern countries. A storm in 1503 smashed the ships against the rocky shoreline of a bay at Al Hallaniyah island, and the ships soon sank beneath the waves.

A team of divers and archaeologists found the ship in 1998, as a part of a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Da Gama’s first voyage to India. Divers found the ship 28 miles from Oman, in a bay that matched geographical descriptions of the results of a shipwreck written about by 16th Century chroniclers. The divers did not excavate the ship site, however, until 2013.

Among the 2,800 recovered artifacts from the submerged ship are the bell, which is dated 1498, gold coins minted in Lisbon, and an Indio, an extremely rare silver coin that was created specifically for trade with India.

The Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture is preserving the artifacts.

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