Changing Planet

The Monterrey Shipwreck: A Mystery Ship 4,300 Feet Deep

Dark Descent
Copyright NOAA OER

National Geographic Grantee and Texas State University Research Faculty Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann and a team of leading archaeologists are conducting an expedition to the Monterrey Shipwreck in order to carry out the deepest archaeological shipwreck excavation ever in North America. Follow along with Fritz’s updates from the field.

By Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann

As the ROVs descend into the dark waters of the Gulf of Mexico, their lights open our eyes to a foreign world thousands of feet below us: inner space as it were. Out of the darkness at a depth of almost 4,300 feet, a shadowy form emerges and yields an eerily intact shipwreck resting on the soft silt of the sea floor. Its haunting beauty hints at the secrets that it could reveal regarding its mysterious history.

We’ve journeyed 170 miles off the coast of Texas to explore this unique shipwreck.  We will spend five days conducting operations around the clock to map and document the wreck in exacting detail, to excavate target areas of artifacts, and bring them to the surface for in-depth study that will provide diagnostic information and allow us to discover the vessel’s age, function, nationality, and identity.

A major collaboration between the Texas State University Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the Texas Historical Commission, the University of Rhode Island, and the Ocean Exploration Trust will be working out of National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence Dr. Robert Ballard’s E/V Nautilus to uncover the mysteries of the Monterrey Shipwreck.

Funding provided by foundations and individual donors through the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment and the Office of Advancement at Texas State University, the Way Family Foundation, and the Harte Family Foundation. 

NEXT: See More at “Nautilus Live”

Frederick "Fritz" Hanselmann is Research Faculty, who serves as the Chief Underwater Archaeologist and Diving Program Director with the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. He is also the director of The Meadows Center's Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Initiative. Fritz learned how to swim at age three, and has been in love with the water ever since, having been taught to breath hold dive by his grandfather diving for golf balls tied in a sock in the Gulf of Mexico. Having worked on underwater sites from a wide variety of time periods, his research ranges from submerged prehistoric deposits in springs and caves to historic shipwrecks in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the wreck of the Quedagh Merchant, abandoned by Captain Kidd in 1699 off the coast of Hispaniola. Fritz led the first-ever archaeological survey of the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama as the initial phase of the ongoing Río Chagres Maritime Landscape Study. One aspect of this study is the Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project, the search for the famous privateer's sunken ships. He is one of the Principal Investigators of the Monterrey Shipwreck Project in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the deepest shipwreck excavation ever conducted in North America, in collaboration with three federal agencies, three universities, and three non-profit organizations. Fritz is also the co-director of the Sunken Ships of Colombia project, which focuses on finding, documenting, studying, and managing historic shipwrecks along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The Spring Lake Underwater Archaeology Project on the university's campus also falls under his supervision and he assists other projects in Mexico and Texas as part of the Initiative. Fritz also focuses on capacity building and training for archaeologists and heritage managers in less developed countries, as well as the development of marine protected areas and underwater preserves. He is a GUE Cave and Technical Diver, a Nautical Archaeology Society Tutor, a certified scuba instructor, an ambassador for Aquadive Watches, and a fellow of the Explorer’s Club. Fritz regularly gives public lectures and presentations for museums, universities, and other organizations.

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