Subscribe to Archaeology

Update From 716 Fathoms

March/April 2014



There have been some exciting developments on the Monterrey Wrecks since ARCHAEOLOGY first reported on them in the March/April 2014 issue.


Analysis of the massive amount of data continues. One of the benefits of the technology we used was the constant mapping and remapping of Monterrey A throughout the expedition—at every stage of work, and as artifacts were recovered, a series of measurable maps of the site are now being produced. This has made it possible to follow, virtually, the test excavation and sampling of the wreck over the week-long mission. In addition, the three-dimensional BlueView sonar also provides us with the ability to “fly-through” and measure the site from more than a flat perspective.


For those worried about the fate of the ceramic bowl that Herc’s manipulator appeared to pummel, they’ll be pleased to know it survived, unbroken. After performing well, Herc suffered a hiccup when the ambient sea pressure (1925 psi) formed a bubble in one of the oil-filled hydraulic lines running the arm. Fortunately, each punch hit soft mud and missed the bowl and other artifacts. When the problem was discovered, the team elected to recover the vehicle to the surface rather than risk damaging fragile artifacts where OET's crack team of engineers rapidly diagnosed the problem, repaired it, and got the vehicle quickly back to work. From then on it performed flawlessly for the rest of the mission. This is a complex piece of equipment working in an alien and hostile world and you have to expect the unanticipated mechanical flaw to present itself on occasion, which is when the steely-eyed ROV team leapt into action to save the day.


It is clear to the team that we are looking at a privateer, or a pirate vessel—occasionally one country’s pirate is another country’s privateer. We believe that it was lost with its two consorts, which were likely prizes. This would be the first major find, an underwater archaeological signature of this type of maritime activity resting on the seabed. We’re so excited that, thanks to NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration staging a detailed scientific exploration cruise in the area this spring, we will return soon for a brief inspection with Okeanos Explorer on April 15-16, 2014. You can follow the dives here. We also are planning for more archaeological documentation and sampling in 2015.


Monterrey-Shipwrecks-Modern-TShirtMeanwhile, artifact analysis and conservation continues. The modern T-shirt is the first item to emerge from conservation—that was a simple softy-cycle wash—and it turns out to be a coarse fabric tee with the logo of a Manila, Philippines, construction company. The only modern artifact seen on the wreck thus far, the shirt was crumpled in a ball and snagged on copper fasteners beneath the stern. It sure did look like a jacket in all the video and stills, but, as we’re all fond of saying on the team, you never know for sure until you go or recover. While the t-shirt was not, in fact, a jacket from the wreck, it remains an important find. The item highlights the fact that the oceans are a convenient dumping ground for all sorts of modern discards. And there is not a site I’ve visited yet that doesn’t have intrusive materials from our times intermixed with older remains. We found plastic cups, beer cans, and other waste all over the wreck of Titanic, for example.


The archaeological team has also received the initial characterization of the wreck from the oceanography and marine biology team. One of the key questions for us has not only been the assemblage and the hull, but the environmental factors that affect the wreck, as well as the wreck’s effect on the environment. The ship created an oasis of life in an otherwise deep-sea environment, but it also introduced toxins in the form of copper that are now spreading from the corroding metal hull sheathing and spreading into the sediment meters away from the wreck. But in exciting news, two new hitherto undocumented life forms were discovered, another reminder highlighting the fact that the deep ocean truly is earth’s final frontier, capable of yielding information about new life as well as past civilizations as we boldly go.


Hercules Monterrey Shipwrecks
All Hands on Deck
Anatomy of a Deep Wreck