Portuguese shipwreck discovered in Oman believed to be Vasco da Gama's Esmeralda

Historians hope discovery could provide treasure trove of new information  

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The Independent Online

A shipwreck found off the coast of Oman is believed to be that of Esmerelda - part of famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s Armada to India more than 500 years ago.

The earliest recovered from Europe’s age of exploration, the vessel was sunk in 1503 off the coast of Al Hallaniyah island, in Oman’s Dhofar region.

Commanded by Vicente Sodré, da Gama’s maternal uncle, the Portuguese East Indiaman is believed to have been one of two ships left behind during da Gama's second voyage to India to disrupt trade between India and the Red Sea.

It was first located by a team from Blue Water Discoveries Ltd (BWD), based in West Sussex, in 1998 in an expedition to mark the 500th anniversary of da Gama’s discovery of a direct sea route to India, before being excavated in 2013.

Shipwreck hunter and founder of BWD, David L Mearns, said: “This project differs from the majority of maritime archaeology projects in that we set out to specifically find the wreck site of the Sodré ships, using a survivor’s and other historical accounts, because of their very early age and the potential they held for new discoveries.

"It is extremely gratifying therefore that this strategy has paid off with such interesting revelations even though we are still at a relatively early stage in the study of the artefact assemblage.”

The project’s archaeological director, Dave Parham, of Bournemouth University, said: “It is fascinating to work on a site that is involved in such early European maritime connections with the Indies.”

The ship pre-dates the next oldest Iberian shipwreck by 30-50 years, and so it is hoped it will provide new information about maritime trade and warfare during the turn of the 16th century.

“The armaments that the site has produced are already providing us with information about the martial nature of these voyages and the site has the potential to tell us much more about the men and ships that undertook these adventures and the peoples that they encountered,” said Mr Parham.

The first archaeological excavation of the wreck by Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MHC) took place in 2013, with two more in 2014 and 2015.

The 2,800 recovered artefacts – which include the ship’s bell which is dated 1498 – have been analysed using cutting edge technologies and will be preserved in a collection owned by the MHC.

Vasco da Gama was the first European to reach India by sea, opening the way for an age of global imperialism and aiding Portugal's establishment of a colonial empire in Asia.