Texas researchers have begun to recover items ranging from swords to old cures for seasickness from a sunken ship from the early 19th Century which has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston Island.
"There were five cannon, three cases of muskets, and a large collection of alcohol bottles," said Tom Oertling of the Department of Maritime Studies at Texas A&M University, who is one of the researchers studying the artifacts from the ship, which is under 4300 feet of water about 170 miles off the Texas coast.
"Its exciting to think about the potential of what these objects are going to tell us."
Frederick Hanselmann, Chief Underwater Archaeologist at Texas State University and the leader of the expedition, says it remains uncertain what type of ship it was. He says the Gulf of Mexico was very much an open sea in the early 1800s, when the Spanish empire was decaying as Mexico and other new nations were being formed, and the United States was just assessing it's new Louisiana Purchase and fighting the famous Battle of New Orleans.
"We will spend five days conducting operations around the clock to map and document the wreck in exacting detail, to excavate target areas of artifacts, and bring them to the surface for in-depth study that will provide diagnostic information and allow us to discover the vessels' age, function, nationality, and identity."
Researchers say they are looking into the possibility that the ship may have been sailing to support the battle for Mexican independence from Spain in the 1810s, or possibly supporting the Texas battle for independence from Mexico in the 1830s.
The large number of muskets, pistols, swords, and cannon found on board also leaves open the intriguing possibility that this was a ship piloted by one of the authentic Pirates of the Caribbean. Galveston Island was a major port used by the pirate Jean Lefitte, who helped Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans in the famous 1815 battle and who attacked shipping throughout the Gulf and the Caribbean.
Dr. William Kiene of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Marine Sanctuaries says one interesting find is already telling researchers something about the ship---a cask filled with ginger.
"Ginger was something that they would use in combating seasickness," he said.
Hanselmann says liquor bottles, a ceramic jar called a 'cantaro' which was used in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, a decanter, a demijohn, and other miscellaneous ceramics and bottles have also been uncovered. He said the ships 'amazing rate of preservation' has left the items in outstanding condition.
The shipwreck was discovered last year by NOAA after a Shell Oil crew mapping the Gulf floor notices its existence. The first major excavation of items from the site is taking place this week.
While they don't expect to find any gold doubloons or sunken treasure, Kiene says the wreck will provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of seamen two hundred years ago.
"It isn't gold and jewels, but this is a treasure trove of knowledge that we're getting in history," he said.