Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard called to find lost sarcophagus

From The Times

June 14, 2008

Franck Goddio


It has been a source of enduring fascination for archaeologists and amateur Egyptologists everywhere: what exactly happened to the sarcophagus of Menkaure, one of Egypt's greatest Pharaohs? Now, more than 170 years after it was found and lost, the mystery could be solved.


Built from polished blue basalt to transport the king's earthly remains to the next world, the elaborately decorated vessel lay hidden inside the third-largest of Giza's renowned Pyramids for more than 4,000 years. In 1837 the British colonel Richard William Howard Vyse blasted his way into Menkaure's sepulchral chamber using gunpowder and discovered the stone casket.


The mummy was missing by that time — ancient Arabic graffiti indicated that the colonel was not the first to find the chamber — and he realised that his discovery could open the way for a new generation of grave robbers. “As the sarcophagus would have been destroyed had it remained in the Pyramid,” he noted in his diaries, “I resolved to send it to the British Museum.”


In a twist worthy of an Indiana Jones film, the sarcophagus was lost again the following year before it could reach British shores. The merchant ship Beatrice, which was carrying it and other antiquities found by the archaeologist, sank while sailing from Malta to Gibraltar — reportedly off the coast of Spain, near Alicante.


Now the Egyptian Government wants to recover it with the aid of underwater robots. Zahi Hawass, who heads Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, told Spanish journalists that he was seeking financing from the National Geographic Society for the search.


To locate the Beatrice he has lined up the services of Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic using high-tech submersibles. The Egyptians have also privately suggested Franck Goddio, the French marine archaeologist who has discovered hundreds of artefacts from submerged parts of Alexandria.


“I will seek a formula for co-operation with the Spanish Government and we will agree to return the sarcophagus to Egypt,” Dr Hawass said. Experts say that finding the ship will not be easy. In his account of the expedition Colonel Vyse noted that the Beatrice “was supposed to have been lost off Carthagena . . . as some parts of the wreck were picked up near the former port”. Other accounts say that the crew swam safely to shore, suggesting that the Beatrice lies in shallow water. Still others merely state that it went missing somewhere between Malta and Gibraltar — an impossibly large area to search.


“It's going to be very challenging to find something of that sort,” said John Baines, Professor of Egyptology at Oxford University. “Looking for something in the open Atlantic, which is nearly what this amounts to, strikes me as being a hopeless case.”


Dr Hawass is undeterred. “We have all the information from the time the ship sank, from Spanish newspapers and other sources,” he said. The Egyptian Ambassador in Madrid met Spanish officials this month to seek their co-operation in the project.


However, Spain is locked in a legal battle over a sunken treasure worth an estimated $500million (£256million) with the company that found and recovered it, the US-based Odyssey Marine Exploration. Spain is arguing that Odyssey looted one of its naval ships, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which was sunk by the British fleet off the coast of Portugal in 1804, laden with gold and silver coins.


Some believe that Menkaure's sarcophagus being on a British vessel could complicate Spain's legal argument at a crucial moment. There is also the question of who would get the spoils if they were to be raised from the deep.



Replica of ancient ship to follow part of Argonauts' route

Sunday June 15, 2008 MYT 8:54:53 AM


ATHENS, Greece (AP): A replica of the Argo, the ship that according to legend carried Jason and the 50 Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece, sailed Saturday from the central Greek city of Volos on a two-month journey to Venice in Italy.


Turkey's refusal to guarantee the 93.5-foot (28.5-meter) wooden ship safe passage through the Bosporus Strait meant that the ship will not reach its ancient predecessor's destination of Colchis, in what is modern-day Georgia, at the eastern end of the Black Sea. Its route, instead, will retrace part of the Argonauts' return trip.


According to a version of the legend, Jason and the Argonauts, while fleeing from King Aites of Colchis, from whom they had stolen the Golden Fleece, sailed from the Black Sea up the Danube river and then into the Sava and Ljubljanica rivers before continuing their trip on the Adriatic and Aegean seas.


Jason is considered the founder of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia: the city's coat of arms includes a dragon, which Jason allegedly slew.


The ship's crew comprises 50 oarsmen with another 22 on standby on a ship following the Argo, said Vangelis Constantinou, a spokesman for the project.


"We had to reschedule the trip over the last 10 days, following Turkey's refusal,'' Constantinou added.


The city of Volos had to arrange with 23 cities for the ship's overnight stay. The trip will comprise 37 legs and will total some 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 kilometers).


The ship was built according to known designs for warships during the Mycenaean era. The Argonauts' trip is said to have taken place in the 14th century BC, almost 200 years before the Trojan war. The ship includes a ram, used to attack and sink enemy ships.


The trip is scheduled to end in Venice on August 11.



Maritime 'treasure trove' raised

By Rebecca Morelle

Science reporter, BBC News


A treasure trove of artefacts is being recovered from what experts describe as one of the most important maritime discoveries since the Mary Rose.


The late 16th Century shipwreck hails from a pivotal point in England's military history.


The raised haul includes a 2m-long (7ft) cannon, which will give archaeologists an insight into Elizabeth I's naval might.


The wreck, discovered 30 years ago, is situated off the coast of Alderney.


Dr Mensun Bound, excavation leader and marine archaeologist from Oxford University, said: "This boat is really grade A in terms of archaeology - it is hard to find anything that really compares with it."


The excavation of the Elizabethan warship is being filmed for the BBC's Timewatch series.


Recovering the cannon was a delicate operation; divers had to navigate through reef-strewn waters where strong currents prevailed.


Dr Bound said: "At first the weather was not too kind and we missed out on the window for the first attempt, but then the sea went down and the skies opened up, and everything was suddenly going our way.


"The cannon is in perfect condition - nothing has broken - it has an intact hand grenade, part of its carriage system is in place, there is the barrel of a gun or a sword on one side.


"We cannot wait to get a closer look at it once it has been cleaned up.


"Archaeologically and historically, this is an important day."


The team hopes to raise another cannon in the coming days.


As well as the cannon, the team has also recovered many more objects, including a musket, a soldier's breastplate and an intact navigational calendar.


These join a large collection of artefacts - including another cannon - raised from another dive in the early 1990s.


Experts believe the Alderney warship and its contents will help shed light on a key point of England's naval history. The boat is thought to have sunk in 1592, possibly after an encounter with one of the area's many reefs.


Just four years earlier, Elizabeth's navy had defeated the Spanish Armada and was embarking on expeditions that would exert its maritime and territorial domination around the world.


Dr Bound said: "The wreck illuminates a time when England was fighting for its very survival - the world was at war, the Catholic south was fighting the Protestant north."


At the same time, he added, the navy was undergoing a technological revolution.


He said: "Henry VIII's Mary Rose dates to 1545 and is an old-style ship. It had all sorts of guns, of different types, different shapes, different calibres, different ages, different styles."


But just 47 years later, the Alderney warship looked very different - and by looking at artefacts such as the raised cannons the team hopes to discover just how advanced the navy really was.


"We hope they will demonstrate that this ship was carrying our first uniform, co-ordinated weapons system," Dr Bound explained.


"We think that here we have a standardised weapons system here; the guns are all the same type, the same materials, the same technology, the same calibre.


"It is a different type of navy, its a more professional navy. We have here the beginnings of broadside naval warfare."


The cannons and other arms, such as muskets and guns, will now be brought up the Thames to the Tower of London. There they will be examined and then flown to York for conservation.


The BBC Timewatch team will then follow the archaeologists as they rebuild and test the weapons, putting them through detailed ballistic tests to determine their precision and power.


Text and video reports on the Alderney wreck are published at the BBC Timewatch website. A BBC Two documentary will be broadcast in later in the year and will detail the findings of the investigation




Divers find 1780 British warship


Deep sea divers have found the wreck of a Royal Navy warship which sank during the American Revolution.


The discovery of HMS Ontario, at the bottom of one of the Great Lakes on the US-Canada border, has been hailed an "archaeological miracle".


The 22-gun, 80ft (24.4m) vessel, with an estimated 130 men on board, went down in Lake Ontario in a gale in 1780.


The ship is now being treated as a war grave and there are no plans to raise it or remove any of its artefacts.


Shipwreck enthusiasts Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville have revealed how they used side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to find the ship earlier this month.


They claim HMS Ontario is the oldest confirmed shipwreck and the only fully-intact British warship to have ever been found in the North American Great Lakes.


Canadian author Arthur Britton Smith, who chronicled the history of HMS Ontario in the 1997 book The Legend of the Lake, described the find as an "archaeological miracle".


"To have a revolutionary war vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable," he told the Associated Press (AP) news agency.


Mr Scoville told AP that, although the vessel went down in a huge storm, it had still managed to "stay intact".


"There are even two windows that aren't broken. Just going down, the pressure difference can break the windows. It's a beautiful ship," he said.


The vessel is currently sitting in an area of the lake where the water is up to 500ft (152m) deep and can only be reached by the most experienced divers.


However, Mr Kennard and Mr Scoville, who have been hunting for the ship for three years, have refused to give its exact location, saying only that it was found off the southern shore.


The pair believe the cold, fresh water of the lake has acted as a preservative - with the lack of light and oxygen slowing decomposition - ensuring the ship has stayed intact.


HMS Ontario is considered one of the few "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and for many years divers and shipwreck hunters have searched for the vessel without success.


Official records quoted by the team of explorers show HMS Ontario went down on 31 October 1780 with a garrison of 60 British soldiers and a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians. There could also have been up to 30 American prisoners of war on board.


There are about 4,700 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, with approximately 500 in Lake Ontario.



Spain's lost treasure battle in U.S. court

June 9, 2008 -- Updated 0625 GMT (1425 HKT)

By Al Goodman

CNN Madrid Bureau Chief


MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A battle royale over an estimated $500 million treasure that a Florida deep-sea salvage company found last year is due for a fresh round in court in Florida on Monday.



The Spanish government now says the 500,000 silver and gold coins that the company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, found last year in the Atlantic Ocean near Spain came from one of its ships that sunk in a 19th-century naval battle. Spain wants the entire treasure returned, but Odyssey insists Spain may have no right to it.


Lawyers for both sides are due to present arguments Monday morning in a U.S. federal court in Tampa, Florida, in another round of the case that started last year, Odyssey spokeswoman Natja Igney told CNN.


Odyssey found the coins last year and quietly airlifted them in crates from Gibraltar, a British colony on Spain's southern tip, to Florida for safekeeping. The company then said it was unclear how the huge quantity of coins it found on the seabed had gotten there. It declined to reveal the location, citing security reasons, and mysteriously dubbed the site "Black Swan."


But the Spanish government, at a recent Madrid news conference, said it's really not so complicated.


"The mystery is over," said James Goold, a U.S. lawyer representing Spain, told the news conference. "Using a variety of methods to conceal what it was doing, Odyssey Marine Exploration stripped the gravesite that is the Spanish navy warship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes of coins and other objects."


"The coins and other artifacts that Odyssey took from the site are documented to have been on the Mercedes," Goold said.


The Mercedes was a 34-gun frigate, a ship very common at the time in the Spanish navy. The Mercedes left Peru, stopped in Uruguay and was just a day's sail from Spain when the four-ship Spanish squadron was attacked by a British fleet in October 1804, according to a Spanish government's filing to the Florida court.


In the ensuing Battle of Cape St. Mary, south of Portugal, the Mercedes exploded after being hit in its powder magazine. It sank with its cargo, killing the 200 Spanish sailors and civilians aboard.


Spain accuses Odyssey of looting the gravesite of a sovereign Spanish-flagged navy vessel. But Odyssey executives aren't so sure the coins came from the Mercedes, and they say they certainly didn't come from a gravesite.


"I think in order to have a gravesite, you certainly need the remains of a shipwreck, and you would certainly need the remains of some humans. Neither has been found at the site," Odyssey co-founder Greg Stemm told CNN. He invited Spanish experts to join Odyssey in further investigation.


But Spain says it has seen the evidence. It recently dispatched a team, including a government marine archaeologist and coin expert, to Florida to examine the treasure held by Odyssey.


These specialists told the Madrid news conference that it's a vast trove of coins, including fabled "pieces of eight," some minted in 1803 in Lima, Peru -- then a Spanish colony.


Stemm told CNN most of the 500,000 coins are silver; with a smaller amount being gold. The visiting Spanish experts, he said, saw only a small percentage of the coins, and he called for more research.


"We are not after the gold," Guillermo Corral Van Damme, a Ministry of Culture senior official told CNN. "We are after the history, of the memory, of the respect, essentially, for what is a marine graveyard of our people."


But Stemm countered, "Well, if they're really not in it for the money, then we would be happy just to keep all the coins and do the archaeological work at no charge, if it turns out there's a Spanish interest."


The Peruvian government also is monitoring this case, a Peruvian diplomat told CNN. Media reports have quoted some authorities there as saying Peru might also have a claim, if it's proven that some of the treasure came from Peru.


Spain might be willing to share some of the treasure with Peru, but out of a sense of a common cultural heritage, rather than a strictly monetary operation, Jose Jimenez, another Spanish Ministry of Culture senior official, told the Madrid news conference.


Odyssey says its leading hypothesis is that the coins may have come from the Mercedes, pending further research, Odyssey lawyer Melinda MacConnel told CNN. But MacConnel said even if it's proven that the treasure was aboard the Mercedes, Spain still doesn't have an automatic claim because the ship, at the time, did not meet the legal standard for "a sovereign immune vessel."


"This ship was not on a military mission at the time of its sinking. It was transporting mostly private goods, actually," MacConnel said.


But Goold, the Washington-based lawyer for Spain, told CNN, "This case has a lot more visibility because of the artificial mystery that was created, and because of the large amount of gold and silver that was taken from the ship. But the legal principles are not new."


"I've been to court before on them and we have always won and we expect the same result here," Goold said. "A navy ship is a navy ship. This is property of the national government, subject to exclusive control of the national government."


The court hearing on Monday in Tampa is not expected to be the last round in this battle over the treasure.