A mystery sunken sailing ship lying in 110 metres of water at the entrance to the Thames River is tipped to be a ship of the English Royal Africa Company, according to items retrieved from the vessel. This is the conclusion of the discoverer of the items, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a world leader in deep-ocean shipwreck exploration.
Discovered during the Atlas Project, believed to be the most extensive shipwreck search operation ever launched encompassing 5,000 square miles of ocean in 2005/6, the significant items in the wreck were
An unmarked 17th-century tobacco pipe,
Three glass bottle bases,
A wooden folding rule,
Manilla bracelets and...
An examination of these artifacts has established that the wreck is of a late 17th-century shipwreck that the company calls 35F. Close study of the artifacts by Odyssey’s archaeological team has led to the hypothesis that the wreck may represent the westernmost example of a West African trader and the only example of this date known off the UK.
If accurate, the evidence suggests site 35F would be the first English Royal Africa Company shipwreck identified worldwide.
Using advanced robotic technology, Odyssey conducted a pre-disturbance survey, including a photomosaic, and archaeologically recovered sample artifacts from the site. By studying the site’s formation and composition, and the recovered items, Odyssey was able to piece together likely history of this mysterious wreck. Although the team cannot conclusively identify the shipwreck, the work conducted so far certainly indicates that the site is of historical significance:
The discovery of manilla bracelets (a highly valuable form of primitive currency) and elephant tusks undoubtedly links the ship to the triangular trade route between Africa, Europe and the Caribbean/Americas.
The wooden folding rule (an early version of the modern calculator and the earliest example to be found on a shipwreck) utilizes the English inch indicating the presence of a British carpenter on the ship.
Although the generic tobacco pipe discovered was not adorned with a maker’s mark, its style is consistent with pipes produced in England some time between 1660-1690, allowing the team to establish a date range and national origin of the wreck.
Further contributing to the site analysis was the presence of three glass bottle bases which closely resemble globe wine bottles that were manufactured in John Baker’s 17th-century glasshouse at Vauxhall (London).
Odyssey believes the ship represented by site 35F sailed sometime between 1660-1700 and is English. It is highly likely the vessel was part of the English Royal Africa Company.
However, until a more diagnostic artifact can be discovered, Odyssey may never know its true identity. Located in one of the highest maritime traffic lanes, Odyssey has monitored and documented severe damage caused by the offshore fishing industry since the site was found in 2005.
All items excavated from the site are retained in Odyssey’s permanent artifact collection. The public is invited to learn more and see the artifacts featured in Odyssey’s Virtual Museum (www.OdysseysVirtualMuseum.com
) and through our social media profiles www.facebook.com/odysseymarine
. In addition, Odyssey recently published an In Depth feature written by Principal Marine Archaeologist and the paper’s co-author Neil Cunningham Dobson explaining the process of molding the elephant tusk discovered at 35F for future study.
Odyssey also recently published a feature interview with Dobson in its In Depth series which can be viewed here: http://www.shipwreck.net/oid/oid11.php
The folding rule discovered at 35F is on display in Odyssey’s travelling exhibit SHIPWRECK! and was previously on display the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. To read this and other Odyssey archaeological papers, please visit http://www.shipwreck.net/featuresarchpapers11.php