May 17th, 2012
12:34 PM ET

Shipwreck found on Gulf floor while thousands watched

The joy of discovery was palpable when a nearly 200-year-old wooden shipwreck was found on the bottom of the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, along with three other wooden ship sites, according to Fred Gorell of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Ocean Exploration.

Most of the wood is gone, eaten by ocean organisms, but copper sheathing helped keep the shape of the hull together, scientists said.

The artifact-laden wreck is in a largely unexplored area of the Gulf, and when NOAA went in with their Little Hercules remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) for 29 dives, satellite and Internet pathways allowed scientists and amateurs alike to follow along live.

But why was this ship the most "exciting" out of the four potential sites?

It was full of evidence that intrigued NOAA marine archeologists. When the ship itself was discovered, 2,000 people were following along live - including scientists in five different states and "citizen researchers" ashore using telepresence technology.

"You look at this as a scene - not a crime scene, but a history scene, with pieces of evidence that will be looked at differently by different experts who specialize in different things to help date this ship and to help get a better understanding of what this ship might have been engaged in," Gorrell said.

"It has been said that there is more history on the seafloor than in all of the museums on earth. This might help us better understand a little piece of history that is in one small place on the seafloor that could be very important if put into perspective."

Plates laced with a green pattern around the edges and the copper sheathing are key pieces of evidence. They can help researchers determine the exact time period when the ship was constructed and used - and possibly when it went down.

The location of cannons, bottles and maritime navigation instruments such as a compass and octant give researchers an idea of the use areas on the ship, said Frank Cantelas, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

The artifacts are all exposed because of the ship's decomposition - and because sediment didn't have the chance to accumulate and bury them. The ship is deeper than 4,000 feet and away from the mouth of the Mississippi River, a prime bearer of sediment, Cantelas said.

"As far as we know, it was sailing across the Gulf, but we're not sure where it was coming from or going," he said. "Based on the fact that it has cannons on board, and muskets as well, brings about some interesting ideas that it may have been involved in military activities."

The evidence gives an early suggestion that the ship was constructed and operated in the first half of the 19th century - when the Texas Revolution and Mexican-American War were occurring in the region, he said.

The imagery, information and data from the dives is available to researchers, graduate students and other marine archeologists that want to study the information. There are currently no plans to retrieve any of the objects.

Because only 5% of its floor is mapped, the ocean "is a big mystery," Gorrell said, "so you have the opportunity for the joy of discovering things in the big ocean, which you can do if you go out and you look in places where no one has been before, it often comes your way."

For more on discovered shipwrecks and deep-water dives, check out our continuing coverage:

A worthy wreck for divers: USS Kittiwake

Shipwreck hunters stumble across mysterious find

Deep sea tourism: Voyage to the bottom of the sea

Anchor from Blackbeard ship recovered

Shipwreck exhibit stirs up storm at Smithsonian

Beachcomber stumbles upon historic shipwreck

James Cameron emerges from 'alien world' at ocean's depths

See more on our complete coverage of Main Sail

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Filed under: History
soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. gulfwatcher

    CNN folks, I think you might be missing a basic element that belongs in this story: WHERE WAS THE SHIP? Just saying it was in the "Gulf of Mexico" isn't adequate. That's like saying that a train wreck happened somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. Thousands of miles of U.S. and Mexican coastline front the gulf. Where, along there, is the shipwreck? The only specifics that I can see in this story are that the wreck is "away from the mouth of the Mississippi River" and in more than 4,000 feet of water and in an unexplored part of the gulf. That doesn't get it. If I live in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi or Florida, I have no idea whether the ship is off my coast, even after having read this story.

    May 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • cd

      go watch your fox news and shush

      May 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • JRH

      Perhaps there's a very good reason for that. Because about 483 idiots would already have their boats fired up to go assault the wreck and loot it if they told where it was.

      May 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aud

      There is a VERY good reason why the exact location of the shipwreck is not revealed: looters and media (like that horrendous Spike TV show where "diggers" treat historic artifacts like $$ yard sale items) won't destroy the site. I am happy to read that the exact location not mentioned in the article!

      May 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby

      It doesn't matter.

      May 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. chrissy

    jj, i did not call you any names i just asked you a question! There is too much ugliness going on in this world, that if we only concentrated on THAT we would never have a peaceful moment. I for one am quite happy when CNN posts something positive to read

    May 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Big_D

    This is a good story. Thanks for something apolitical CNN.

    May 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Captain Barfbag

    So, how long until we get the transcripts from the black boxes so we can find out what happened?

    May 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Innkahoots

      The Kracken got her.....

      May 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Innkahoots

    Maybe the ships bell,(If found) will be inscribed with its name. Oh how I do love a good old fashoned shipwreck.

    May 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David in Corpus

    JJ, move to Corpus and become Corpitos as we call it. 60 percent anglosized hispanics and 35 percent hispanicized anglos. We count the brothers and sisters on our hands and feet. Easy to do too, as they are all hangin' out around the catholic homeless shelters 24/7 slingin' rock and pimpin' some fatazz hoes.
    The only racial problems we have here between anglos and hispanics is who is going to go get more beer and tequila before we run out. We never run out of grass.

    May 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cheyenne Maheu

    Lol, cnnlicksit.

    May 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Cheyenne Maheu

    They are not aloud to give the location due to stupid people that would have their boats all fired up, and ready to go destroy the wreck if the location was given out. They have to get the ship out there before they can give the location away.

    May 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. 'Nother-son-'O-Ursus

    Reminds one of what the U.S. economy would look like, if Romney wins in November

    May 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dan

    Somebody really should recover artifacts. Let it all sit there and in a few more years they will be gone forever.
    Just like Civil War artifacts, the longer artifacts stay in the ground the more chance they will just rot away never to be seen again. It really is important to save those antique artifacts if not for display in a museum then sell them to collectors who will appreciate them and pay big money for them!

    May 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. 4fun

    ... evidence that will be looked at differently by different experts who specialize in different things investigate differently providing different results to different people from different places who reads on different sites from different gadgets of different brands from different companies in different countries ...

    May 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BoogerFree

    Hey, that's my watch!

    May 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. SUNDEVIL85

    I saw shipwreck and I immediately thought of a 2nd Obama term. Wow subliminal articles CNN...

    May 17, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tyler

    Very interesting. Neat to see how far we've come in the last 100 years in technology to be able to find things from the past.

    May 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ayeayespongebob

    Oh gawd I can hear Celine singing now...

    May 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
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