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SOS Lisbon for shipwreck hunt

Marine archaeologists search remains of an ancient steam engine shipwreck off Goa coast, reports Reshma Patil.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2007 01:38 IST

Off Goa’s coast, marine archaeologists are diving to explore the remains of an ancient steam engine shipwreck near Marmagao, about two km away from the oldest shipwreck found here in 1988. They suspect it will take three years to piece together the story of the new find from evidence like furnace bricks probably used to cook on board. But they could even find ivory and ancient guns.

At the same time in Lisbon, Portuguese archival authorities are scanning documents of maritime trade between the two nations to pass on tips to the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa, to help locate an estimated 40-odd ancient shipwrecks along the Goa to Karnataka coast. This year the search will also extend around Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

“In the coming days, we will conduct explorations of shipwrecks around Goa waters,” NIO maritime archaeologist Sila Tripati told HT. “We have also requested Portuguese scholars in Lisbon and South Africa for data to help us explore shipwrecks at the Orissa and Andhra coast too.”

On February 10, Tripati and Ian Godfrey from the Western Australian Museum published results in Current Science on the 1988 find of a Portuguese cargo vessel that sank in the 17th century near Marmagao. They based their findings on eight soft, decaying elephant tusks and nine hippo canines from the wreck.

Nothing remained of the ship’s body or documents, so scientists depended on the haul of two-metre-long guns, Chinese ceramics and bricks for clues. “The tusks and teeth are evidence of historic maritime trade between Goa, Portugal and Africa,” the duo reported.

“Radiocarbon dating conducted in Lucknow indicates the ivory is 360-400 years old,” said Tripati. While the 1988 wreck remains mysterious, marine archaeologists from Australia, South Africa to the US are in touch with NIO to know more about what lies on Goa’s seabed.

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First Published: Feb 17, 2007 01:38 IST