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PRESS RELEASE

Earliest known Mariner’s Astrolabe research published today to go in Guinness Book of Records

18 March 2019

  • A gunmetal disc excavated from the wreck site of a Portuguese Armada Ship identified as a mariner’s astrolabe – and the earliest known example – by engineers at WMG, University of Warwick is to be published in the The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology https://doi.org/10.1111/1095-9270.12353 and awarded a place in the Guinness book of records
  • The astrolabe was discovered by David L. Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries Ltd, who directed the three-year archaeological project in collaboration with Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture
  • It has been named the Sodré astrolabe after the commander of the ship in which it was found: Vicente Sodré was the maternal uncle of Vasco da Gama and died when his ship, the Esmeralda, wrecked on the remote Omani Island of Al Hallaniyah in 1503
  • It will be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest mariner’s astrolabe from as early as 1496

Guinness World Records have independently certified an astrolabe excavated from the wreck site of a Portuguese Armada Ship that was part of Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India in 1502-1503 as the oldest in the world, and have separately certified a ship’s bell (dated 1498) recovered from the same wreck site also as the oldest in the world.

The scientific process of verifying the disc as an astrolabe by laser imaging is described in a paper published today by Mearns and Jason Warnett and Mark Williams of WMG at the University of Warwick in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

The Sodré astrolabe has made it into the Guinness Book of world records is believed to have been made between 1496 and 1501 and is unique in comparison to all other mariner’s astrolabes.

Mariner’s Astrolabes were used for navigating at sea by early explorers, most notably the Portuguese and Spanish.

They are considered to be the rarest and most prized of artefacts to be found on ancient shipwrecks and only 104 examples are known to exist in the world.

They were first used at sea on a Portuguese voyage down the west coast of Africa in 1481. Thereafter, astrolabes were relied on for navigation during the most important explorations of the late 15th century, including those led by Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

It is the only solid disk type astrolabe with a verifiable provenance and the only specimen decorated with a national symbol: the royal coat of arms of Portugal.

As the earliest verifiable mariner’s astrolabe it fills a chronological gap in the development of these iconic instruments and is believed to be a transitional instrument between the classic planispheric astrolabe and the open-wheel type astrolabe that came into use sometime before 1517.

The thin 175 mm diameter disk weighing 344 grams was analysed by a team from WMG who travelled to Muscat, Oman in November 2016 to collect laser scans of a selection of the most important artefacts recovered from the wreck site.

Using a portable 7-axis Nikon laser scanner, capable of collecting over 50,000 points per second at an accuracy of 60 microns, a 3D virtual model of the artefact was created. Analysis of the results revealed a series of 18 scale marks spaced at uniform intervals along the limb of the disk.

Further analysis by WMG engineers showed that the spacing of the scale marks was equivalent to 5-degree intervals. This was critical evidence that allowed independent experts at Texas A&M University to include the disk in their global inventory as the earliest known mariner’s astrolabe discovered to date.

Prof Mark Williams from WMG, University of Warwick comments:

“Using this 3D scanning technology has enabled us to confirm the identity of the earliest known astrolabe, from this historians and scientists can determine more about history and how ships navigated. Technology like this betters our understanding of how the disc would have worked back in the 15th century. Using technology normally applied within engineering projects to help shed insight into such a valuable artefact was a real privilege”

David Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries Ltd comments:

“Without the laser scanning work performed by WMG we would never have known that the scale marks, which were invisible to the naked eye, existed. Their analysis proved beyond doubt that the disk was a mariner’s astrolabe. This has allowed us to confidently place the Sodré astrolabe in its correct chronological position and propose it to be an important transitional instrument.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

View the paper: https://doi.org/10.1111/1095-9270.12353

High-res images and videos are available to download form this website

About WMG

WMG is a world leading research and education group and an academic department of the University of Warwick, established by Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya in 1980 in order to reinvigorate UK manufacturing through the application of cutting edge research and effective knowledge transfer.

WMG has pioneered an international model for working with industry, commerce and public sectors and holds a unique position between academia and industry. The Group’s strength is to provide companies with the opportunity to gain a competitive edge by understanding a company’s strategy and working in partnership with them to create, through multidisciplinary research, ground-breaking products, processes and services.

Every year WMG provides education and training to schoolchildren through to senior executives. There is a growing part-time undergraduate programme for apprentices, as well as full-time undergraduates. The postgraduate programmes have over 2,000 students, in the UK and through centres in China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Cyprus

For more information visit www.wmg.warwick.ac.uk

About David L. Mearns

David L. Mearns is one of the world’s most experienced deep sea search and recovery experts. He has led the research and discovery of twenty-five major shipwrecks around the world and is best known for locating the wrecks of HMS Hood in 2001, the British bulk carrier Derbyshire in 1994, and the cargo ship Lucona sunk by a time bomb as part of an Austrian insurance fraud scheme. He was awarded an Honorary Order of Australia Medal for locating the wrecks of HMAS Sydney in 2008 and AHS Centaur in 2009. In 2015 he was a member of Paul Allen’s team that successfully located the wreck of the Japanese super battleship MUSASHI and recovered the bell of HMS Hood on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence. Most recently David led the privately funded search that located the Piper Malibu airplane carrying the Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala and piloted by David Ibbotson that crashed in the English Channel off the coast of Guernsey.

For more information visit http://bluewater.uk.com/

For more information please contact:

Alice Scott
Media Relations Manager – Science
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 2476 573 255 or +44 (0) 7920 531 221
E-mail: alice.j.scott@warwick.ac.uk

David L. Mearns
Director
Blue Water Recoveries Ltd
Tel: +44 (0) 1730 858 114 or +44 (0) 77785 306 707
E-mail: david@bluewater.uk.com


Extracts from :  A Portuguese East Indiaman from the 1502–1503 Fleet of Vasco da Gama off Al Hallaniyah Island, Oman: an interim report, Mearns, D.L., Parham, D., and Frohlich, B, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology Vol. 45.2, © 2016 The Nautical Archaeology Society.

To read or download the full IJNA article, click here



PRESS RELEASE

VASCO DA GAMA SHIPWRECK DISCOVERED

PORTUGUESE SHIP WRECKED ON A REMOTE ISLAND IN THE SULTANATE OF OMAN IN 1503 IS THE EARLIEST SHIP OF DISCOVERY TO BE FOUND AND SCIENTIFICALLY INVESTIGATED BY ARCHAEOLOGISTS

15 March 2016

MUSCAT – Oman’s Ministry of Heritage & Culture (MHC) in cooperation with Blue Water Recoveries Ltd (BWR) of West Sussex, UK announce the discovery and archaeological excavation of a Portuguese East Indiaman that was part of Vasco da Gama’s 1502-1503 Armada to India.  The ship, which sank in a storm in May 1503 off the coast of Al Hallaniyah island in Oman’s Dhofar region, is the earliest ship from Europe’s Age of Discovery ever to be found and scientfically investigated by a team of archaeologists and other experts.

Details of the wreck site, published today in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology reveal that the ship is believed to be the nau Esmeralda commanded by Vicente Sodré, who was the maternal uncle of Vasco da Gama and a descendent of the nobleman Frederick Sudley of Gloucestshire, UK. A website with high-resolution images and video of the excavation was also launched today: (http://esmeraldashipwreck.com)

The wreck site was initially discovered by a BWR team in 1998, on the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s epic discovery of the direct sea route to India, but full-scale archaeological survey and excavation by the MHC didn’t begin until 2013. Since then two more excavations have been conducted in 2014 and 2015, with more than 2,800 artefacts being recovered. The project has been jointly managed by the MHC and David L. Mearns of BWR and has been conducted in strict compliance with the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage of 2001.

Key individual artefacts that helped in identification of the wreck site as Vicente Sodré’s nau Esmeralda include:

  • an important copper-alloy disc marked with the Portuguese royal coat of arms and an esfera armilar (armillary sphere), which was the personal emblem of King Dom Manuel I.
  • a bronze bell with an inscription that suggests the date of the ship was 1498.
  • gold cruzado coins minted in Lisbon between 1495 and 1501.
  • an extraordinarily rare silver coin, called the Indio, that was commissioned by Dom Manuel in 1499 specifically for trade with India.  The extreme rarity of the Indio (there is only one other known example in the world) is such that it has legendary status as the ‘lost’ or ‘ghost’ coin of Dom Manuel.

The bulk of the recovered artefacts were artillery and ordnance from the arsenal on board the ship.  These included lead, iron and stone shot of various calibres, a large number of bronze breech chambers and several ancient firearms.  Together they provide tangible proof of the military objectives of this fleet as ordered by Dom Manuel and brutally carried out by Vasco da Gama and his two uncles Vicente and Brás Sodré.

The historical and archeological importance of the wreck site, based on future studies of the artefact assemblage, could be enormous.  As one of the very early Ships of Discovery that pre-dates the nearest Iberian shipwreck in age by 30 to 50 years, the artefacts are expected to reveal new discoveries about how maritime trade and warfare was conducted in the Indian Ocean at the turn of this vital century.

It was the efforts of several governmental agencies that made this project happen. These include Oman Royal Navy, Oman Royal Airforce, Oman Royal Police and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs along with the help of the local people at Al Halaniyah. On the International level the project has benefited immensely from the contributions of a large group of independent archaeologists, scientists and other experts, who analysed the artefacts in forensic detail using cutting-edge technologies.  The institutions involved include Bournemouth University; the Smithsonian Institution; Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust; Univeridade de Nova Lisboa; WMG, University of Warwick; Oxford Isotrace Laboratory; GUtech, Oman; Banco de Portugal, Lisbon; Lisbon Geographical Society; LNEG, Lisbon; London Geochronology Centre; Durham University and the Mary Rose Trust, UK.  These analyses were partly supported by grants to David L. Mearns from the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council and the Waitt Institute.

His Excellency Hassan Al Lawati the Adviser to the Minister For Heritage Affairs comments “This project is regarded as the first that is conducted in Oman and the region in underwater archaeology. Therefore, the Ministry has taken a proactive approach to ensure that the project will be efficiently conducted. This was done by involving the expertise in underwater archaeology and by working under international regulations such as the UNESCO convention of 2001. This project provided great opportunity in term of capacity building to the National team in all related aspects of underwater heritage site studies. We appreciate the joint efforts of the local and international entities and institutes that made this project a huge success”

This project differs from the majority of maritime archaeology projects in that we set out to specifically find the wreck site of the Sodré ships, using a suvivor’s and other historical accounts, because of their very early age and the potential they held for new discoveries.  It is extremely gratifying therefore that this strategy has paid off with such interesting revelations even though we are still at a relatively early stage in the study of the artefact assemblage,” said Project Director David L. Mearns.

Archaeological Director Dave Parham of Bournemouth University commented “it is fascinating to work on a site that is involved in such early European maritime connections with the Indies. The armaments that the  site has produced are already providing us with information about the martial nature of these voyages and the site has the potential to tell us much more about the men and ships that undertook these adventures and the peoples that they encountered”.

Ibrahim Al Busaidi, Lecturer at the history section in Sultan Qaboos University commented  “The arrival of the Portuguese to India in 1498, led by Vasco da Gama is considered the beginning of a new era of communication between East and West at the beginning of modern times. This historical discovery documents this communication and confirms Oman’s global stature and importance in the midst of the international competition between the various forces in the beginning of modern times. The artifacts that were found among the wreckage of the sunken ship of captain Vicente Sodré (1503) will provide the researchers and scholars, in the field of geographic explorations and the studies related to the Indian Ocean, a lot of historical information related to the nature of the Portuguese campaigns to the east and its goals, and the types of ships and weapons in addition to the economic aspects, such as currencies. Also it lends a lot of historical facts and supports the documentations on the Portuguese presence in the Middle East”.


About Oman’s Ministry of Heritage & Culture

The MHC is the official government body responsible for the protection of Oman’s underwater cultural heritage and their management of this project represents the first government-led archaeological excavation of an historic wreck-site in Omani waters.  Within the MHC an underwater archaeology programme has been recently established to begin the process of cataloguing and investigating sites of underwater cultural heritage throughout the territorial waters of Oman.  Following conservation and analysis, the recovered artefacts will be preserved in a single coherent collection owned by the MHC for ultimate display in Museums.

About BWR / David L. Mearns

David L. Mearns is one of the world’s most experienced and succesful shipwreck hunters and has led the research and discovery of twenty-four major shipwrecks around the world.  He is best known for locating the wrecks of HMS Hood in 2001, the British bulk carrier Derbyshire in 1994, and the cargo ship Lucona sunk by a time bomb as part of an Austrian insurance fraud scheme.  He was awarded an Honorary Order of Australia Medal for locating the wrecks of HMAS Sydney in 2008 and AHS Centaur in 2009.  In 2015 he was a member of Paul Allen’s team that successfully located the wreck of the Japanese super battleship MUSASHI and recovered the bell of HMS Hood on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence.


Title:
A Portuguese East Indiaman from the 1502–1503 Fleet of Vasco da Gama off Al Hallaniyah Island, Oman: an interim report

Authors:
David L. Mearns: Blue Water Recoveries, Midhurst, West Sussex, UK
David Parham: Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, Poole, UK
Bruno Frohlich: National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Abstract:
Two Portuguese naus from Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India, left behind to disrupt maritime trade between India and the Red Sea, were wrecked in May 1503 off the north-eastern coast of Al Hallaniyah Island, Oman. The ships, Esmeralda and São Pedro, had been commanded by da Gama’s maternal uncles, Vicente and Brás Sodré, respectively. A detailed study and scientific analysis of an artefact assemblage recovered during archaeological excavations conducted in Al Hallaniyah in 2013 and 2014 confirms the location of an early 16th-century Portuguese wreck-site, initially discovered in 1998. Esmeralda is proposed as the probable source of the remaining, un-salved wreckage.


For further information please contact:
Oman Ministry of Heritage & Culture
Ayyoub Al Busaidi
Tel:  +968 24641677
Mobile: +96899048421
Email:  alayyoubi83@yahoo.com

For further information please contact:
Blue Water Recoveries Ltd
David L. Mearns
Tel:  +44 (0)1730 858 114
Mobile:  +44 (0)7785 306 707
Email:  david@bluewater.uk.com


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