MARATHON ? Selected federal maritime archaeologists are putting up a joint effort to locate a sunken slave vessel across Delta Shoals off the Sombrero Reef. Local residents call the place Ivory Wreck which is only several hundred yards away from their lighthouse. The name comes from ivory tusks that were found on the wreck in late 1940.
According to historians, slave traders from America commonly continued on to Europe on their ships to trade ivory tusks and other valuable items.
The History of Diving Museum explained that Art McKee, the late treasure hunter, assisted in finding the ship wreck and retrieved some silver bars and several other items of interest.
Other items that were found and retrieved were a cannon and shackles. Historians were still unable to track the origin of the slave ship. Some theories said that the vessel went underwater in 1850 and others thought that it sunk earlier.
An archaeology dive team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency made its initial visit to the wreck site last week. However it was known locally that the wreck site is regularly visited by local lobster hunters and spearfishermen.
Matthew Lawrence, maritime archaeologist from NOAA, said, ?The site has the potential to tell us a lot about the North American slave trade.?
Lawrence was one of the few chosen researchers who went snorkelling and diving last Thursday at the wreck site which was about eighteen feet underwater. He mentioned that one must not believe everything they read on the internet. He was at the wreck site for twenty minutes during its initial stop but they did not find the shipwreck.
Since the wreck site was not a frequently visited by NOAA researchers, Lawrence and Brenda Altmeier, coordinator from Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary Maritime Heritage, used coordinates published online by professional divers. Bruce Terrell, senior historian and archaeologist from NOAA, was with the team also.
After the maritime researchers located the wreck site, they took images of the base of the area which they would use to disclose new information. The team also consider launching an outreach for public to inspire people to contribute any item from the shipwreck they have retrieved.
Many feel that a visit to the wreck site is nostalgic because it is considered as the final resting place for enslaved Africans who were believed to be trapped in the vessel?s hull when it went underwater. ?I want to know who has those shackles, or if they still exist,? Lawrence continued, ?The reason this is a slave ship makes it that much more interesting.? He expressed that bringing thousands of people away from their homes only to be drowned in chains was heart-breaking and a horrific experience.
Video: Ivory Wreck, Marathon, Florida Keys
Lawrence will be working with the History of Diving Museum on May 20 to discuss another sunken vessel named Hannah M. Bell.
This 315-foot steel-hulled ship is believed to sit on Elbow Reef which is about six miles from Key Largo. It was thought that it went underwater in 1911. The engine room of the sunken vessel was filled with water and retrieval operations stopped after several days when a strong storm ripped the vessel. However, it was reported that there were no lives lost.
Altmeier, event organizer to inform the public about the historical importance of the wreck sites, said ?This is really interesting and important to the public.? He remarked that people look differently at the oceans these days, ?We look at them as obstacles, but before they were considered highways.? He added.