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Lee Abbamonte

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In Search of Captain Henry Morgan (PHOTOS)

Posted: 08/15/2012 7:00 am

Seventeenth century buccaneer Henry Morgan was one of the most infamous and polarizing figures of his time. He accomplished great things in the Caribbean and has since become a popular culture icon through the Captain Morgan spiced rum commercials -- even though many people don't realize that he was a real person.

Back in the 17th century, he lost five ships at the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama. These ships had been lost at sea for centuries. In September 2010, a team of leading underwater archaeologists discovered six iron cannons off the coast of Panama that belonged to Morgan. That discovery led the team to discover the underwater remains of a 17th-century wooden ship believed to be one of Morgan's fleet. This summer, I was invited down along with a team of other journalists to witness and document what the team found as they began excavating the shipwreck.

As a student of history, a true lover of archaeology and excavation, not to mention a huge Indiana Jones fan (except for the most recent film), I couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement of the excavation. Being out on the dive boat and being a part of this historic find was extremely fascinating and rewarding.

I was able to witness the team pull out artifacts that had been lost at sea for centuries. These artifacts included a sword, coins, barrels and other unidentified things that the Chagres River had swallowed up so many years ago.

I also found myself in awe of the team of archaeologists, divers, cameramen and historians that were the true catalysts for making and bringing to life this historic find.

Frederick "Fritz" H. Hanselmann, underwater archaeologist and Research Faculty with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University, has been leading the team working to locate, excavate and preserve the remains of Morgan's lost fleet.

Fritz and his team do an amazing job in finding, preserving and explaining what they've done and found. They made it easy to understand and see what we were looking at. Fritz made us feel a part of the team and he is just an all around great guy.

I had never been a part of a dive excavation before and had actually never held a historic artifact at all, let alone one that had just been unearthed from the sea floor. So holding a 17th-century sword potentially used by Captain Henry Morgan, was one of the more intensely cool things I have ever done. It was a really exhilarating experience that is hard to explain. It was like being a part of history on some small scale.

As Fritz says, "the cool thing about archaeology is that it brings history to life, you can actually touch it." That is so true and for me, touching history was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Sunken 17th century ship

    This is what a wooden ship that's been submerged for over 300 years looks like. It was potentially a part of Captain Henry Morgan's fleet.

  • Underwater archaeologists diving for sunken artifacts

    Some team members diving for lost artifacts and taking some measurements.

  • Cannon recovered from sunken ship

    This is one of the cannons recovered from the sunken 17th-century ship

  • Artifacts found on the ship

    Some artifacts found aboard the sunken 17th-century ship

  • Underwater archaeology team

    Fritz (second from right) and the rest of the underwater dive team at Fort San Lorenzo.

 

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