Nearly every American schoolchild learns about the European explorers of the Age of Discovery. Among the most famous was Vasco da Gama of Portugal, who in the 15th century led the first voyage from Europe to India.
Now da Gama’s Esmeralda shipwreck has been discovered after 500 years at the bottom of the sea. A team led by National Geographic grantee and shipwreck hunter David Mearns has excavated the site and recovered the ship’s remarkable treasures, including its bell.
“This is the earliest pre-colonial shipwreck ever discovered. This is from the European Golden Age of Discovery, when Columbus, Magellan and Vasco da Gama are going around the world,” Mearns told National Geographic.
His company, Blue Water Recoveries, in collaboration with the Omani Ministry of Heritage and Culture, found the shipwreckoff a remote Omani island in the Arabian Peninsula in 1998.
After extensive logistical planning, excavation began in 2013. Spending more than 1,000 hours underwater the team has recovered more than 2,800 artifacts that tell of the ship’s journey.
The ship sank in a storm in 1503 with the loss of all crew and its captain, Vicente Sodré, da Gama’s uncle. Da Gama commanded a sister ship, São Gabriel.
“There’s coins, there’s armaments, there’s munitions, there’s personal objects, there’s organic objects. And we’re bringing in archaeologists and other experts to study the entire collection, so it will ultimately be in a museum and displayed for the public in a way where you’re really spelling out the entire history,” Mearns said.