Texas State researcher helps find pirate cannons

Frederick Hanselmann and Joe Lepore raise a cannon to the surface using a lift-bag 
Photo Donnie Reid

By Roy Bragg - My San Antonio

Six deteriorating pirate cannons, discovered by a team that included a Texas State University researcher, will help Panamanian antiquities experts tell the history of that nation.

The cannons, found in September in the muck at the mouth of the Chagres River, are thought to be from the deck of ships led by legendary pirate-for-hire Capt. Henry Morgan, who was en route to raid Panama Viejo — now called Panama City — in 1671.

Instead, says Frederick Hanselmann, Morgan's flagship ran into a reef. Then, like a nautical rumba line gone bad, three of his other ships either ran into the same reef or into each other trying to avoid it. All of them sank, depositing the cannons and everything else on the ocean floor.

Undaunted, Morgan took his remaining ships to the city and sacked it.

The discovery of the 340-year-old weapons, which are now in Panama's possession and being preserved, is an important find, says Hanselmann, the school's chief underwater archaeologist.

“It was an important event in the development of the country,” he said. “It's a major find for the country. It's a major find for the people.”

William B. Lees, president of the Society for Historical Archaeology, agreed: “It's part of a bigger story,” he said. “It's part of a nation's view of itself.”

The ultimate goal of archaeology, Lees said, isn't to find interesting stuff, but rather to find tangible proof of historical events.


Panama Texas State University Chagres River Frederick Hanselmann Capt. Henry Morgan