Warship, privateer, or passenger ship: The identities of three early 19th-century shipwrecks resting on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico (map) could be any number of things. But a group of researchers have spent the past week mapping and excavating these well-preserved finds in order to find out.
Their initial target, dubbed the "Monterey shipwreck," is a copper-clad sailing vessel that came to rest in 4,300 feet (1,330 meters) of water, making it the deepest wreck currently under investigation in U.S. waters, say experts. (Related: "Deepest Shipwreck Explored off U.S. Yields Treasures.")
After spending several days exploring the Monterey wreck, the expedition investigated two additional sonar targets less than five miles (eight kilometers) away. They turned out to be two other shipwrecks—one copper-clad and the other a deteriorating wooden ship.
All three vessels had exceptionally well-preserved artifacts including anchors (pictured), eyeglasses, blocks of tallow, leather-bound books, muskets, and cannons.
"We think all three vessels were sailing together," said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Marine Sanctuaries. They were found in the same area and had the same kinds of bottles and octants, a navigational tool.
Delgado noted that it's likely all three went down at the same time, and quite violently at that.
One of the anchors looks like it was ripped away from its usual position on one of the ships and slid halfway back, he added.
—Jane J. Lee