Atlas Project

Discovery of English shipwreck at the mouth of the Thames

From Sail World

A mystery sunken sailing ship lying in 110 metres of water at the entrance to the Thames River is tipped to be a ship of the English Royal Africa Company, according to items retrieved from the vessel.

This is the conclusion of the discoverer of the items, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a world leader in deep-ocean shipwreck exploration. 

Discovered during the Atlas Project, believed to be the most extensive shipwreck search operation ever launched encompassing 5,000 square miles of ocean in 2005/6, the significant items in the wreck were :

An unmarked 17th-century tobacco pipe, Three glass bottle bases, A wooden folding rule, Manilla bracelets and... Elephant tusks.

An examination of these artifacts has established that the wreck is of a late 17th-century shipwreck that the company calls 35F. Close study of the artifacts by Odyssey’s archaeological team has led to the hypothesis that the wreck may represent the westernmost example of a West African trader and the only example of this date known off the UK. 

If accurate, the evidence suggests site 35F would be the first English Royal Africa Company shipwreck identified worldwide. 

Using advanced robotic technology, Odyssey conducted a pre-disturbance survey, including a photomosaic, and archaeologically recovered sample artifacts from the site. By studying the site’s formation and composition, and the recovered items, Odyssey was able to piece together likely history of this mysterious wreck.

Although the team cannot conclusively identify the shipwreck, the work conducted so far certainly indicates that the site is of historical significance: 

The discovery of manilla bracelets (a highly valuable form of primitive currency) and elephant tusks undoubtedly links the ship to the triangular trade route between Africa, Europe and the Caribbean/Americas. 

The wooden folding rule (an early version of the modern calculator and the earliest example to be found on a shipwreck) utilizes the English inch indicating the presence of a British carpenter on the ship. 

Although the generic tobacco pipe discovered was not adorned with a maker’s mark, its style is consistent with pipes produced in England some time between 1660-1690, allowing the team to establish a date range and national origin of the wreck.

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