The site first came to the scientists’ attention in 2011, when Shell Oil Company reported the discovery of an unusual mass on the gulf’s floor, which they had stumbled upon while surveying potential oil and natural gas drilling targets. Dubbed the Monterrey site—after the name Shell had previously given the area—its location more than three-quarters of a mile below sea level put it out of the reach of human exploration, so researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made an initial examination of the site last year, using a remote-controlled vehicle that confirmed the mass was indeed a shipwreck and likely dated to the early 1800s.
This month’s study, conducted by NOAA and teams from Texas State University in San Marcos and Texas A&M Galveston, was able to determine the ship’s dimensions (84 feet long and 26 feet wide) and construction type (a wooden hull covered in copper and likely carrying up to six cannons), and also recovered a trove of more than 60 artifacts from the shipwreck. Among the items recovered are ceramics and china, musket parts, navigational tools and personal items such as books, eyeglasses, clothing, a toothbrush and a small, sealed bottle filled with ginger, once a popular tool to combat seasickness.
After finishing their work at the initial wreck site, the team moved on to investigate earlier reports by Shell of the possibility of more ships in the area, and located the two additional wrecks just a few miles away. Their research permit limited their excavation work to just the original Monterrey site vessel, preventing them from recovering artifacts from the new sites.