Archaeologists continue to study shipwrecks off Galveston coast


News Reporter

Researchers at The Meadows Center for the Water and Environment will continue three remote shipwreck explorations found April 24 in the Gulf of Mexico.

A team began the guided exploration of three shipwrecks April 17 and 18 with an underwater remote-operated vehicle robot. The university’s Chief Underwater Archaeologist Fritz Hanselmann and State Marine Archeologist Amy Borgens commanded the robots from the Texas State campus as they watched it on multiple screens. The operation will continue Thursday and will be open for the public to attend in The Meadows Center Discovery Hall.

“We have two chief scientists on the expedition physically controlling the robots, and all of the other scientists connect via intercom and a conference call, and it has actually been working out quite nice,” Hanselmann said. “We can talk to the ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) pilot and direct it and tell them where we want the robot to go. We also have a chat room that gets time-stamped as we type, so we have many different ways to communicate.”

The shipwrecks being explored were viewed in 2013, but the robot exploration allows the archeologists to go more in-depth. The team has plans to continue the project into next year with more explorations to provide a better picture of the wreckage.

Texas State researchers became involved with the exploration in 2012 and the university’s role has increased over time, Hanselmann said. The team has hopes the artifacts found during the exploration can be displayed in a museum in San Marcos, he said.

The shipwrecks range from 65 feet to 100 feet deep  and were all discovered in the Gulf of Mexico about 170 miles off the coast of Galveston . They are believed to have been coming to or from the ports as trade and protection ships, according to the archaeologists.

“The ships are believed to date back to the early 19th century,” Borgens said. “We believe this because the artifacts date from a variety of mid-18th century to early 19th century. In order to get a good idea from when these shipwrecks took place, you have to look at the date of some of the newest artifacts.”

All three ships that have been discovered are believed to have had different purposes, Borgens said. One of them was carrying hides to possibly trade at the port. Another was found with weapons of artillery and is believed to be a protection vessel for the trade ship, according to the archeologists.

“There’s no doubt these ships are related because several of the same artifacts have been on multiple ships,” Borgens said. “It’s a lot like being a detective because you have to take so many things into account to find an answer. Eventually, we’re going to take all of this information that we are getting and we’re going to publish a document and it will be available online.”

The explorations are being live-streamed on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.