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A Famous Explorer's Ship Is Discovered

Researchers say that a 500-year-old shipwreck is the Esmeralda, one of Vasco da Gama’s long-lost ships.

By Jennifer Marino Walters



Divers at the site of the Esmeralda wreck found hundreds of objects embedded in the sand. Photo courtesy of Blue Water Recoveries Ltd.

More than a decade ago, a British company that searches the seas for shipwrecks made a very interesting find. It located a 500-year-old wreck near a small island off the coast of Oman, a country in the Middle East. The team that made the discovery had a hunch that it was a lost ship from the fleet of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. In 2013, the company, called Bluewater Recoveries, worked with the Oman government to beginexcavating (digging up) the wreck. After studying many of the items found there, researchers now say they have proof that the shipwreck is, in fact, Da Gama’s long-lost ship.


The mid-1400s to the 1600s was a time period some people call the Age of Exploration. That’s when European explorers set out on trips across uncharted seas to find new trade routes across the world. One of them was Christopher Columbus. Another was Da Gama, who is most famous for discovering a sea route to India from Portugal. He reached India in 1498, on his first voyage, by sailing around Africa and across the Indian Ocean.

When Da Gama returned from his second voyage to India, in 1503, he left two of his uncles in charge of several ships from his fleet. One was the Esmeralda. They sailed to the Arabian Sea to capture and rob ships loaded with goods. That May, a strong storm hit while they were at Al Hallaniyah Island near southern Oman. The Esmeralda was dashed against the rocks and sank.


The British team used historical documents, especially a letter written by one of the surviving ships’ captains, to locate the site of the Esmeralda. Since the wreck’s remote location protected it from looters, archaeologists (people who dig up and study ancient objects) were able to find more than 2,800 artifacts(objects made by humans) there. These included a copper ship’s bell that has numbers on it that may show the year of Da Gama’s first voyage, stone cannon balls with the letters VS on them (believed to be the initials of Vicente Sodre, Da Gama’s uncle), and coins, including an extremely rare silver one created just for Portugal’s trade with India. The finds led archaeologists to conclude that the company had found the famous explorer’s ship.

The artifacts will be studied for more clues to Portugal’s early trade and warfare in the Indian Ocean. “That was an amazing discovery,” David Mearns, the leader of the team that excavated the wreck, told theDaily Mail, a British newspaper. “It was like a thing you read about in a Hollywood story.”

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