Tag Archives: shipwrecks

Shipwrecks spotted in crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan

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The wreck of the Rising Sun rests in 6-12 feet of water. (Mitch Brown/U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City)

Early spring is apparently a good time to look for shipwrecks in Lake Michigan.

Earlier this month, a helicopter from the Coast Guard’s Air Station in Traverse City, Michigan, was out on a routine patrol over the lake, looking for boats in distress or anything out of the ordinary. It was a calm day; the ice that covered the lake had recently melted, and the water was still very cold, just 38 degrees Fahrenheit — a perfect combination for good visibility.

When Petty Officer Mitch Brown looked out the window of the helicopter, he could spot several century-old shipwrecks in the crystal-blue waters. [See photos of the wrecks from above]

“We usually look for boats that are in the process of sinking,” Lt. Dan Schrader told Live Science. “We try to keep them keep from getting to that point.”

Brown snapped several pictures of the Lake Michigan wrecks with his iPhone. The Coast Guard posted the photos to Facebook, and they quickly went viral.

“We didn’t expect these photos to catch on like they did,” Schrader said. In the last week, he’s gotten calls from reporters as far away as Norway and China.

The photos didn’t reveal any new shipwrecks, but they did offer new views of vessels that sank up to 150 years ago.

For example, the aircrew captured a shot of a 133-foot-long wooden steamer named Rising Sun that ran aground in shallow water just north of Pyramid Point on October 29, 1917, during an early season snowstorm.

Some of Brown’s photos also revealed the 121-foot-long brig James McBride, which was stranded near Sleeping Bear Point during a storm on October 19, 1857, while carrying wood to Chicago.

Both of those ships are located in the Manitou Passage, which was a major shipping area in the heyday of Michigan lumbering, according to the Michigan Underwater Preserve Council (MUPC). Ships sought safety in the waters around the Manitou islands during storms, but clearly not all of them were successful.

The historic wrecks are protected under state law, and divers should know that it is a felony to remove or tamper with artifacts in Michigan’s Great Lakes, according to the MUPC. Anyone who tries to take a porthole, anchor or other object from a wreck could face two years in prison and hefty fines.

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Largest trove of gold coins in Israel unearthed from ancient harbor

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 (Israel Antiquities Authority)

A group of divers in Israel has stumbled upon the largest hoard of gold coins ever discovered in the country. The divers reported the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and nearly 2,000 coins dating back to the Fatimid period, or the eleventh century, were salvaged by the authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit. The find was unearthed from the seabed of the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park, according to a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the release. “There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected.”

Sharvit suggested that the treasure trove of coins might have been intended to pay the members of the Fatimid military garrison stationed at Caesarea, Israel. There are also other theories as the origins of the coins. Sharvit said that the coins could have belonged to a sunken merchant ship.

“The coins are in excellent state of preservation, and despite the fact they were at the bottom of the sea for about a thousand years, they did not require any cleaning or conservation intervention,” said Robert Cole, an expert numismaticist – someone who studies currency – with the antiquities authority.

The five divers have been called “model citizens” by the antiquities organization. Had the divers removed the objects from their location or tried to sell them, they could have faced a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The oldest of the coins is a quarter dinar that was minted in Palermo, Sicily during the second half of the ninth century. The majority of the coins can be traced back to the Faimid caliphs, Al-Ḥākim and his son Al-Ẓāhir who were alive in during the eleventh century. These coins were minted in Egypt and North Africa.

“There is no doubt that the discovery of the impressive treasure highlights the uniqueness of Caesarea as an ancient port city with rich history and cultural heritage,” stated the Caesarea Development Company and Nature and Parks Authority in the release. “After 2,000 years it is still capable of captivating its many visitors … when other parts of its mysterious past are revealed in the ground and in the sea.”

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Blackbeard’s Booty: Pirate ship yields medical supplies

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File photo – A one-ton cannon which was recovered from the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck site, is pulled from the water near Beaufort, North Carolina, Oct. 26, 2011. (REUTERS/Karen Browning/N.C. Department of Cultural Resources)

Archaeologists are excavating the vessel that served as the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard, and the medical equipment they have recovered from the shipwreck suggests the notorious buccaneer had to toil to keep his crew healthy.

Blackbeard is the most famous pirate who ever lived. His real name was Edward Teach (or possibly Thatch), and his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was formerly a French slave vessel named La Concorde de Nantes that Blackbeard captured in November 1717. Blackbeard was able to capture this ship easily because much of its crew was either sick or dead due to disease.

A few months into 1718, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground on a sandbar at Topsail Inlet in North Carolina. Blackbeard abandoned much of his crew at that point, leaving the site with a select group of men and most of the plunder. He was killed in battle later that year.

The wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge was rediscovered in 1996 and has been under excavation by the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project. Archaeologists have recovered many artifacts, including a number of medical instruments. These artifacts, combined with historical records, paint a picture of a pirate captain who tried to keep his crew in fighting shape.

“Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times,” Linda Carnes-McNaughton, an archaeologist and curator with the Department of Defense who volunteers her time on the excavation project, wrote in a paper she presented recently at the Society for Historical Archaeology annual meeting. [Photos: The Medical Instruments Found on Blackbeard’s Ship]

The people on a ship like Blackbeard’s would have had to contend with many conditions, including “chronic and periodic illnesses, wounds, amputations, toothaches, burns and other indescribable maladies,” Carnes-McNaughton said.

Blackbeard’s surgeons

In fact, maintaining the crew’s health was so important that when Blackbeard turned the Queen Anne’s Revenge into his flagship, he released most of the French crew members he had captured, but he forced the ship’s three surgeons to stay, along with a few other specialized workers like carpenters and the cook, Carnes-McNaughton said.

She noted, however, that “The Sea-Man’s Vade Mecum” of 1707,which contained the rules that seafarers were supposed to follow, had a provision stating that surgeons could not leave their ship until its voyage was complete.

Carnes-McNaughton investigated both the La Concorde de Nantes’ crew muster, which is the document that lists crew members’ names and salaries, as well as court records to learn more about the surgeons Blackbeard captured.

The ship’s muster indicates that La Concorde de Nantes’ surgeon major was a man named Jean Dubou (or Dubois), from St. Etienne. Before he was captured by Blackbeard, Dubou was being paid 50 livres for his work on the ship’s voyage. The second surgeon was Marc Bourgneuf of La Rochelle, who was paid 30 livres for the voyage.

The third surgeon was Claude Deshayes, who was listed as a gunsmith on the muster and paid 22 livres for his work. The muster also names a surgeon’s aide,  Nicholas Gautrain, who was paid 12 livres. Although he is named on the muster, Gautrain is not mentioned in court records.

Medical equipment

When archaeologists excavated the Queen Anne’s Revenge they found a number of medical instruments, some with marks that indicate they were manufactured in France. Carnes-McNaughton said that Dubou and his aides were required to supply their own medical equipment, and Blackbeard likely captured this equipment when he captured the surgeons. [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

Among the finds was a urethral syringe that chemical analysis indicates originally contained mercury. Carnes-McNaughton told Live Science that this would have been used to treat syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. “Eventually the mercury kills you,” she said, explaining that the patient could suffer mercury poisoning.

Archaeologists also found the remains of two pump clysters. These would have been used to pump fluid into the rectum, allowing it to be absorbed quickly, Carnes-McNaughton said. It’s not clear exactly why this would have been done, but there are plans to analyze the clysters to find out what material they contained before the ship was wrecked.

An instrument called a porringer was also found, which may have been used in bloodletting treatments, Carnes-McNaughton said. People in the early 18thcentury believed that bloodletting could cure some conditions and a modern-day form of the treatment is still used for a few conditions.

Archaeologists also found a cast brass mortar and pestle and two sets of nesting weights, devices that would have been used in preparing medicine. The remains of galley pots were also found that would have been used to store balms, salves and other potions.

Some items were found that could have been used medically or non-medically, Carnes-McNaughton said, including a silver needle and the remains of scissors, which could have been handy during surgeries. Two pairs of brass set screws were also found that may have been used in a tourniquet, a device that limits bleeding during amputations.

Carnes-McNaughton said she is going to compare the medical equipment from Queen Anne’s Revenge to those found on other wrecks.

Getting medicine

But although the captured surgeons had medical equipment, Blackbeard would have still needed a supply of medicine to treat his crew. He got some in 1718, after he spent a week blockading the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Blackbeard captured ships that tried to get past him, holding their crew and passengers hostage.

When it came time to parley with the governor of South Carolina, a chest of medicine was demanded. Blackbeard threatened that he “would murder all their prisoners, send up their heads to the governor, and set the ships they had taken on fire,” if the governor didn’t deliver the medicine chest, writes Capt. Charles Johnson, who published an account of Blackbeard in 1724. The governor promptly complied and the prisoners were released.

In the end, Blackbeard’s efforts to keep up his crew’s health didn’t change the pirate’s own fate when he was hunted down in November 1718 by the Royal Navy.

Blackbeard was in good enough shape that he is said to have put up a terrific final fight while trying to board an enemy ship. “He stood his ground and fought with great fury, till he received five and 20 wounds, and five of them by shot,” Johnson wrote. “At length, as he was cocking another pistol, having fired several before, [when] he fell down dead.”

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