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Strange sonar blip deep in Gulf of Mexico is mysterious shipwreck from 1800s, NOAA says

An anchor and some ceramic dishes were located amidships of Site 15711’s hull.
An anchor and some ceramic dishes were located amidships of Site 15711’s hull.

A sonar anomaly deep in the Gulf of Mexico -- officially known as Site 15711 -- is now known to be the resting place of a sailing ship that went down in the 1800s, according to a report by NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research.

An expedition on June 27 confirmed it was a shipwreck after sending a remote control camera down 1,800 feet to view the somber debris field that included everything from from dinnerware to glass bottles.

Divers found proof last year that a shipwreck 40 miles off the coast of North Carolina is the steamship Pulaski which exploded and sank in 1838, killing half its 200 passengers.

An unusual sonar reading at the site was first recorded in 2013 by an oil and gas company sea floor survey, said a report by Doug Jones, marine archaeologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The identity of the ship “that no one has seen for over 100 years” is unknown, but further study of the video will be used to solve that mystery, Jones said. What sank the ship also remains unknown.

No artifacts were brought up from the wreck, NOAA officials told the Charlotte Observer.

“The shipwreck site is approximately 66 feet (20 meters) long and 33 feet (10 meters) wide, including a small debris field of rigging off to the starboard side,” Jones says in his report. “The wreck lies virtually flat to the seafloor, with almost none of the wooden hull exposed except for portions of the stem and stern posts. Some frames and inner planks forming the lower hull can barely be seen beneath a covering of the soft seafloor silt.”

Copper sheathing is among the artifacts that were used to date the ship to the mid- to late-1800s, he wrote.

Among the artifacts found: stoneware jugs, the anchor, wire rope rigging, ship’s bell (now green with age) and a windlass, used to move heavy weight aboard a ship.

“The archaeological analysis of the wreck is just beginning, however, and more clues should emerge after further viewing,” Jones wrote. “Many archaeological questions remain to be answered. Perhaps the first one is, what’s a better name than ‘Site 15711’ to call it now?”

A stash of gold coins was called the latest bit of proof that a shipwreck 40-plus miles off the North Carolina coast is that of the steamship Pulaski, which took half its wealthy passengers to the bottom of the Atlantic in 1838.

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