Aggies to Recover Artifacts From Mystery Ship

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Four thousand feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico lies a shipwreck of an unknown vessel. A team of Aggies, as well as a group of other scientists, are on a quest to bring some of the artifacts on board to shore. All the while, they will be making history.

It's estimated the shipwreck is about 200 years old, which points to the craft being built in the late 1700s.

The $4.8 million project started May 22. It is the deepest such recovery effort ever attempted in the gulf.

From the name of the recovery effort, Mardi Gras Shipwreck Project, it sounds like a boatload of fun, but researchers have already spent the past two years gathering data about the wreck. The fieldwork phase of the project is just beginning as the team prepares to work southwest of the Louisiana coast where the Mississippi River meets the gulf.

The recovery effort got its name from a gas pipeline in the area.

Peter Hitchcock, a doctoral student and team leader of the project, says the vessel could be one of the most historically significant shipwrecks found in the gulf.

According to the university, "ten researchers from Texas A&M and its Department of Oceanography and Center for Maritime Archaeology will participate in the effort, as well as members of the Minerals Management Service, a division of the Department of the Interior."

An announcement on the findings from the wreck could come in June.

The project is funded by the Okeanos Gas Gathering Company.

"This will be the first academic excavation of a deepwater shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico," says William Bryant, professor of oceanography at Texas A&M.

Bryant said because the water is too deep for human divers, they will use remote operated vehicles to gather objects.

"We can see a cannon, a box of weapons, navigational instruments, plates and bottles, but there really is no way to tell what else is down there," said Bryant.

Organizers say the project will be recorded and a documentary film about it is planned.

Once the artifacts are recovered and conserved at the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M, they will be delivered to the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Eventually, many of the objects will be displayed by the Louisiana State Museum.