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.
Upon finishing our work on the Monterrey Shipwreck, we decided that we would explore the surrounding area as we knew from Shell Oil’s reports that there were other sonar targets that appeared to be shipwrecks within the near vicinity. After recovering all of our equipment from the Monterrey Shipwreck site, we transited to another target nearby with high expectations of what we might find…and we were not disappointed! The first target resulted in a shipwreck that has a cargo of what appears to be tanned hides, blocks of tallow, and a number of bottles and other material culture that appears quite similar in age and function to those of the Monterrey Shipwreck. This vessel’s hull is not sheathed in copper and most of its wooden structure has decomposed to the sediment, yet a number of its frames and planks remain visible. Also of great surprise were the remains of two masts, protruding through the wreckage.A third shipwreck, another with copper sheathing, yields further questions as to the sinking of these ships.
Since our excavation permit only covered the Monterrey Shipwreck, we map, measure, and document this new shipwreck before checking one final sonar target. That target continued to astound us, as we realized we were now the first people to lay eyes on two never-before-seen shipwrecks…and in one night! The third shipwreck was the largest of the three, its wooden hull sheathed in copper, its large anchors at the ready, yet never deployed, and its contents and cargo a mystery. As much as we would like to continue studying these wrecks, our time has come to an end on this project and we must begin our voyage back to Galveston, even more intrigued than we were before arrival. Were the ships traveling in a convoy? Was the Monterrey Shipwreck once a privateer, with the other two as prizes? Through interpretation of the site, analysis of the artifacts, and archival research regarding shipwrecks in this area, we hope to be able to solve the mystery of what these ships were doing and why they wrecked. In any event, it is an archaeologist’s dream to be the first ever to see a ship since the time that it wrecked and this project has more than fulfilled our team’s expectations!
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: Artifact Treatment