Archaeology news: Experts stunned by English shipwreck off the coast of Mexico

Experts analysing the coast of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatán Peninsula, have discovered a sailing ship on the ocean floor. The wreck has been named after Manuel Polanco, the fisherman who first spotted it and reported it to Mexico’s National Archaeological Institute (INAH) in the 1980s, and is believed to have sunk more than 200 years ago.

Included in the wreckage is a 2.5 metre long cannon, and pig iron ingots that are believed to have been used as ballast in the ship.

Laura Carrillo Márquez, an INAH archaeologist and head of the team that explored the wreck, said a lot of the details regarding the ship are unknown.

However, she did reveal the anchor and cannon discovered at the site were consistent with the designs of 18th-century English ships.

A statement from INAH said: “Little by little, a sailboat from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century begins to reveal its history in the waters around Chinchorro Bank, in the Yucatan Peninsula.

“The underwater archaeologists theorise how the crew of that vessel made a last effort to avoid the catastrophic event.

“This is inferred from the discovery of an ‘activated’ anchor, that is, it was launched into the sea with the intention of attaching itself to the reef barrier to save the ship from running aground, and that today is fully outgrown with coral.”

The area the ship sank in is colloquially known as “Nightmare reef” or “Sleep-robbing reef” because of the dangers it poses to sailors.

The waters are shallow and the reefs are large, equating to a perilous area for seafarers.

The statement from INAH added: “Among the sailboats, steamers and merchant ships of different nationalities and times, today there are 70 shipwrecks in Chinchorro Bank, that INAH has recorded, and protects and investigates, and with each new one found we can learn more about the last 500 years of navigation in American waters.”

Archaeologists will now have to wait for the coronavirus pandemic pass before excavations can continue.

INAH added: “It will be in the second phase of work —which will be carried out once the health contingency passes through COVID-19— when the specialists return to the field to draw plans, delve into the characteristics of the context and perhaps take some samples to investigate their temporality.

“For now, the underwater archaeologist details, it is difficult to talk about the dimensions of the sailboat, its cargo or other details, since the area in which it is located, southeast of Banco Chinchorro, is complex.”


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