Prehistoric site is found at Cave Hill in Belfast

Archaeologists have discovered what is believed to be a prehistoric ceremonial site on Cave Hill in north Belfast.

27 October 2011 Last updated at 14:04


It follows a community excavation involving more than 400 people at the site of Ballyaghagan cashel on the Upper Hightown Road, which had never before been unearthed.


Dr Harry Welsh, an archaeologist with Queen's University, which led the Big Dig project, said some of the earliest items on the site dated back to 3,500 years BC.


He said:"Before we started the dig we thought there would be no big mystery.


"It was a cashel and we would just be in and out again.


"But after a few days we started to see that this site does not conform to all the features of a cashel.


"The medieval lecturers at Queen's are especially excited by what has been found.


"We started off and we thought we would have an early Christian enclosure, and there's an enclosure, but nothing really early Christian so that is interesting.


"The other feature of the site is a small cottage which we thought was 19th century but is actually much earlier than that, so we have had a fantastic time finding all these new things."


Dr Welsh also drew attention to a piece of sandstone which was uncovered at the site and has been inscribed with a unique design.


"We have a piece of sandstone and someone has gone to the trouble of inscribing an oval shape on it with segments, very like if you took a cross section of an orange," he added.


"It is on both sides, so the jury is out on this one.


"This is really unique, you really don't find these things. It could be a gaming piece or a child scratching a rock, we won't know until we get it off for analysis."


Dr Welsh said the site was important as it brought us nearer to the community who would have lived on the hill many centuries ago.


""The important thing for all of us is not so much the stones, it is the people," he said.


"These were people who lived up here, people who built the cottage, who built the cashel, like us.


"It is a connection we now have with the people of the past."


The project was spearheaded by the Belfast Hills Partnership.


It was one of a series of schemes earmarked for a £1.7m Heritage Lottery Fund landscape partnership scheme in the Belfast hills.


The Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Belfast City Council, which owns the land, also funded the project.



Bronze Age hoard found in Manorbier, Pembrokeshire

28 October 2011 Last updated at 14:50



A collection of Bronze Age artefacts found by a man with a metal detector in a Pembrokeshire field may end up at the National Museum Wales.


The tools, a weapon, and other items which were found by Gavin Palmer near Manorbier have been declared treasure by the county's coroner.


The museum says the find helps shed light on how people lived in west Wales 3,000 years ago.


It is having the find independently valued with a view to buying the items.


The money would be split between Mr Palmer and the landowner.


Mr Palmer came across the 19 objects while metal detecting in the corner of a field in August last year.


They can be dated to the Late Bronze Age and were buried around 1000 to 800BC.


An archaeological survey of the area was subsequently carried out by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust.


Ritual ceremony

It suggested the artefacts had once been buried together as a hoard in an isolated pit.


No further Bronze Age objects were found and a geophysical survey did not reveal evidence of a settlement or monument in the immediate vicinity.


Adam Gwilt, curator of the museum's Bronze Age collections, said: "This varied group of bronze objects helps us to understand the kinds of tools, weapons and personal dress items that were in use and circulation in west Wales towards the end of the Bronze Age.


"The hoard may have been buried during a ritual ceremony held by a nearby community of farmers and metalworkers."


He said the museum planned to acquire the hoard following its valuation.



Lost Roman camp that protected against Germanic hordes found

German archaeologists have unearthed "sensational" evidence of a lost Roman camp that formed a vital part of the frontier protecting Rome's empire against the Germanic hordes.

By Matthew Day 3:37PM BST 27 Oct 2011


Historians believe the camp, once home to an estimated 1,000 legionaries and located on the River Lippe near the town of Olfen, may well have been served as a key base for the Roman General Drusus, who waged a long and bloody war against the tribes that once inhabited what is now western Germany.

The find comes 100 years after the discovery of a bronze Roman helmet near Olfen indicated the presence of ancient remains but it took a century of searching to finally discover the exact location of the camp.

"It's a sensational discovery for Roman research in Westphalia," Wolfgang Kirsch, one of the archaeologists involved in the discovery, said in a statement, adding that the camp was the "last missing link" in the chain of Roman defences in western Germany.

Researchers dug up Roman coins, fragments of pottery and the remains of old defences, while aerial photography revealed the course of mote that once protected the camp from German tribes eager to drive the invaders out of their land.

Occupied between 11 and 7BC and the size of seven football pitches, the military installation was probably used to control crossings points on the Lippe and act a supply depot for outlying posts.

"The monument has up to this point been allowed to lie in the ground widely undisturbed for over 2,000 years – an absolute rarity, and, from an archaeological point of view, absolutely ideal," said Doctor Michael Rind, the chief archaeologist working on the camp.

Dr. Rind explained that the main goal now is to protect and preserve the camp. The exploration of the installation, he added, could take decades.



Fort find adds to potted history of Romans’ boozing


Published on Tuesday 25 October 2011 12:02


THE “spectacular” discovery of ancient pottery has revealed how the Romans wined and dined here in South Tyneside almost 2,000 years ago.


And far from sampling the delights of our local brews, it seems they still preferred to ship wines from the Mediterranean to their northern outpost.


Several pieces of a 3ft-tall wine jug have been found during an excavation just outside Arbeia Roman Fort.


The pottery will be stuck together to recreate the metre-high jug, which would have contained numerous litres of wine when it was imported to the fort between AD 250 and AD 350.


The find has been described as “spectacular and significant” by archaeologist Nick Hodgson.


Mr Hodgson is project manager for Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, which conducted the dig at Arbeia with a team of volunteers, from June to September.


He said: “What is special about this is it can be stuck together to see what it originally looked like.


“Containers like this were used for bulk transportation. This is very significant because it is of a rather unusual late Roman type, which only started being imported from AD 250.


“It shows that the Romans still had a taste for Mediterranean wine at that period – they had not gone native and adapted to local beer or wine.


“They were still importing it to South Shields. It’s a spectacular and significant find.”


The container is made of clay, and includes volcanic rock, and is believed to have been imported on a ship from Campania in Italy.


The jug was found in a roadside gully during the excavations, on the corner of Baring Street and Fort Street, South Shields. Smaller pieces of other similar jugs were also found.


A stone building was also discovered, which suggests there was still occupation and activity in the area in about AD 260, when most civilian settlements outside forts in the north of England had been abandoned.


More than 70 volunteers worked on the 2011 excavation from the UK and abroad, thanks to the Earthwatch Institute, a national environmental charity which supports conservation projects.


It is hoped a community archeology project next year will encourage more local people to get involved with excavations at Roman forts, including Arbeia.


Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums is hoping to secure £410,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the initiative, which would include excavations, events and research into the eastern section of the wall from its starting point at Wallsend in North Tyneside, to Hexham in Northumberland.





The find of a lifetime: Treasure hunter digs up 200-piece haul of Viking jewellery and coins


Last updated at 2:32 PM on 27th October 2011


A metal detecting enthusiast unearthed 'the find of a lifetime' when he discovered a Viking treasure hoard including 200 pieces of silver jewellery.

Darren Webster dug up a 1,000-year-old casket that also held coins, hacksilver and ingots while scouring at an undisclosed location on the border between Cumbria and North Lancashire.

Experts at the British Museum in London say the find is of 'national significance'.


'It's a find of a lifetime,' said Mr Webster, from Carnforth, Cumbria.

'It's a long process having the find assessed.

'Neither me or the landowner know what will happen with it. There has been a lot of interest. I want everybody to know about the find.


'I got a good signal on my detector so I dug about 18 inches and then I saw a lead pot. It was slightly open. I could see all the coins and jewellery inside. It was a great feeling.'

Bracelets elaborately engraved with serpents, which could have been worn by a wealthy Viking leader, make up part of the discovery along with rings and an impressive stash of coins.

The haul is now being studied by experts at the British Museum who will reveal their findings in December.


Brian Randall, chairman of the Lune Valley Metal Detecting Club, said: 'We are all thrilled for Darren and wish it was us.

'No one goes out looking for hoards but it's very nice if you do find one.'

Sabine Skae, the curator of Barrow's Dock Museum, said the new hoard will help put Cumbria and South Lakeland on the map as having an important Viking heritage.

'Over the past ten years there has been an increase in small finds and now some larger finds which is really forcing people to look at Cumbria in a new way,' said Mrs Skae.

Oxford University anthropology lecturer, Stephen Oppenheimer, said big hoards such as this paint a new picture of what Vikings were doing in England.

The discovery of big hoards break down the stereotype of Vikings just coming over here to raid our churches and take valuables back to their own country.


'Burying large amounts like this indicates they were settling here,' said Mr Oppenheimer.

Local archaeologist Steve Dickinson, of Ulverston, said the hoard was 'extremely important nationally'.

He said: 'Any hoard is always rare and therefore of national importance but because of its size and detail this is particularly exciting.'

A spokesman for the British Museum confirmed that Darren's discovery was 'a significant Viking hoard'.

He said: 'Research on the hoard is ongoing and more information and images will be revealed at the time of the coroner's inquest in mid-December.'

A spokesperson for Carlisle's Tullie House Museum, where the hoard was originally taken, compared Mr Webster's find to that of the Cuerdale Hoard found on the southern bank of a bend of the River Ribble in 1840, the largest Viking silver hoard in north-western Europe.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2054158/Viking-treasure-haul-Cumbria-metal-detector.html#ixzz1cHrsI9Nc



Linn Duchaill: Ireland's unlikely Viking capital

24 October 11 11:30

By Conor Macauley

BBC Newsline reporter


A windswept barley field just south of Dundalk seems an unlikely spot for Ireland's capital.

But if things had been different, Annagassan near Castlebellingham might have been the principal city on the island of Ireland.

Twelve hundred years ago it was the site of Linn Duchaill, one of the first Viking settlements, which rivalled Dublin in size and importance.

Folklore said it was there, but all traces of it had disappeared, until a group of archaeologists and local historians set out to prove its existence.

Extensive field research and test digs have now done that.

What they found was a huge fortified settlement up to 150 acres in size, established by 841AD where the Vikings built and repaired their ships, traded and raided into the surrounding countryside.

Artist and historian Micheál McKeown was one of those who carried out extensive field research.


He said the Vikings sailed their ships about a mile upstream in the River Glyde, then built a heavily defended position by digging a long trench between the river and the Irish Sea, to completely cut themselves off.

"Dublin developed more as a trading town, this appeared to be more of a raiding town," he said.

"From here they attacked inland, they flattened all the monasteries in County Louth, they went to Armagh three times in one year, they went as far as the Shannon, deep into Longford.

"So there had to be a great amount of Vikings here. I would estimate four or five thousand Vikings here with up to 200 ships."

Test trenches were dug at the site in August last year and a host of items were found.

They included ships rivets, off-cuts of silver, which the Vikings used as currency, and a tiny weighing scale.

Those are now on show at an exhibition in Dundalk's Louth County Museum, along with other items recovered years ago in the same area, including a slave chain, and an axe head - all of Viking vintage.

Around 70 people gathered there over the weekend for a two day conference to discuss the significance of the finds at the Annagassan site.

Among them was Ned Kelly, the keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, one of those who helped uncover the settlement.

"There's been a bit of a mystery about where exactly the site was located or what exactly the site consisted of, and antiquarians and historians and archaeologists have been trying to sort that mystery since about 1750.

"We've now absolutely confirmed the location and nature of the site. It's a very large site. It's one of the earliest sites, there's only one earlier site in Lough Neagh.


"Sites of this nature by virtue of the fact that the Vikings were an international phenomenon, are of international importance.

"This is a site that has the potential to tell us an awful lot about the early activities of the Vikings in Ireland. This is the phase prior to the establishment of towns like Dublin and Wexford.

"The site is well preserved, it's very big and the trial cuttings we put in last September show us that there's a great depth of archaeological deposits, so there's an enormous amount we can learn about early Viking settlement in Ireland."

Linn Duachaill was eventually abandoned in favour of Dublin.

Experts believe that was because Dundalk Bay is shallow and access to the Glyde River was dependant on the tides, which effectively meant the Vikings were stranded upstream twice a day.

That left them and their ships vulnerable to attack and it became too big of a risk.



Joint Palestinian-American dig near Jericho yields clues about early Islamic culture

By William Harms

OCTOBER 26, 2011


As the Byzantine Empire was in decline, Islam began to dominate the Middle East, with a remarkable culture that showed a command of technology and an appreciation of art and decoration, research by archaeologists shows.


In order to study Islamic civilization in its earliest days, Donald Whitcomb, who directs the Islamic Archaeology project at the Oriental Institute, is undertaking a project with Palestinian colleagues to further excavate an early Islamic site north of Jericho that contains a palace, a bathhouse and what was probably a settlement to the north.


Whitcomb excavated the site at Khirbet Al-Mafjar last winter and will return in January as part of a joint archaeological project that will include Americans and Palestinians. The team already has uncovered a gate and a stairway that led to a residential town to the north, where the team uncovered an ornamental pool surrounded by white mosaic paving, glass vials, lamps and other artifacts.


The site, also known as Hisham’s Palace (Qasr Hisham) has been excavated since the 1930s, but Whitcomb has challenged some of the conventional wisdom about earlier digs at the site.


“The site is iconic. It has wonderful mosaics, including a famous one called ‘The Tree of Life,’ which was probably associated with the ruling caliph. On one side of the tree are two deer, which probably represent peace under the caliph, and on the other is a deer attacked by a lion, which probably represents life without the caliph’s rule,” he said.


The mosaic, as well as a wonderfully colored floor, is from the rule of caliph Hisham and his nephew caliph Walid, from the period of 724 to 747. Early scholars contended that the palace and bath were only used during that period, but Whitcomb’s careful reading of the artifacts has shown that the site was occupied much longer — possibly as late as 1300.


It was that discovery that helped provide him a chance to join the expedition. “During international meetings in Rome in 2008, the Palestinian director of antiquities, Dr. Hamdan Taha, approached me and exclaimed, ‘Whitcomb, I have proven you correct!’” Taha had done a small excavation that revealed clear evidence of later occupations.


Taha eventually invited Whitcomb to join the project. Whitcomb and graduate student Michael Jennings took along iPads, which became an invaluable tool to record and analyze the artifacts the Americans and Palestinians discovered.


“The joint Palestinian-American project begins a model for research and training,” said Taha. “This will lead to a more precise stratigraphic history of the site and an understanding of the spatial relationship between the palace and the town.”


Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, said the Mafjar project is “highly innovative in pioneering the use of advanced technologies," such as the iPad to improve the quality, speed and cost-effectiveness of excavations.


“Most archaeologists count on spending 10 hours in the lab for every hour spent digging. Paperless archaeology will not only cut our lab time in half, but it also will allow us to analyze our data so quickly in the field that we can see patterns and adjust the way we excavate almost immediately,” Stein said.


Khirbet al-Mafjar was built in the first dynasty of Islamic rule, in a lush valley watered by abundant springs. Nearby Jericho is 850 feet below sea level and is reputed to be the lowest city in the world — a sub-tropical environment of palms, citrus fruits, bananas and lush vegetation.


The city, which is celebrating 10,000 years of settlement, is an oasis in an otherwise dry terrain. The current city grew up south of an ancient city that has a prominent place in the Bible as the scene of a battle Joshua celebrated in song and legend.


The work of the joint Palestinian-American team will uncover evidence of what kind of trade and agriculture could have sustained Khirbet al-Mafjar and the region around it, which would have included Jericho.


Some of the artifacts uncovered by other teams show that the period at the immediate beginning of Islam had a more tolerant attitude toward images than was later the case. This was also a time of tolerance as Christian and Islamic communities lived side by side.


As has been noted at other early Islamic sites, the taboos against showing images of animals, such as those of the deer in The Tree of Life, was not yet in effect. The bath, which in some ways reflects a Roman style, was decorated with statues of loosely clad women, something later forbidden in Islam.


By finding other examples of the products of technology, trade and agriculture, the team will better be able to explain the culture that was the foundation for Islamic civilization.



13th century Mongolian wreckage discovered off Japanese seabed

The wreck of a Mongolian ship presumed to have been part of a 13th century invasion fleet has been discovered beneath the seabed off southern Japan.

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo 3:43PM BST 25 Oct 2011


The vessel is the first of its kind to have been discovered relatively intact and dates from a series of attempts by Kublai Khan, emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, to subjugate Japan between 1274 and 1281.

Researchers have previously only been able to recover anchor stones and cannonballs from the scattered wrecks of the Mongol fleets and they believe that this latest find will shed new light on the maritime technology of the day.

The warship was located with ultrasonic equipment about 3 feet beneath the seabed at a depth of 75 feet. The archeological team, from Okinawa's University of the Ryukus, had been carrying out a search of the waters around Takashima Island, in Nagasaki Prefecture, because the area had yielded other items from Mongol ships.

Historical records suggest that some 4,400 ships carrying 140,000 Mongol soldiers landed in Japan in 1281 and skirmished with samurai in northern Kyushu. But after returning to their boats, the fleet was struck by a devastating typhoon that put an end to the invasion plans - a storm known to all Japanese as "kamizake," meaning divine wind, and again invoked in the dying days of the Second World War.

The researchers believe the boats tried to find shelter in the coves of northern Kyushu, an assumption borne out by the discovery by Professor Yoshifumi Ikeda's team.

"I believe we will be able to understand more about shipbuilding skills at the time, as well as the actual situation of exchanges in East Asia," Ikeda told reporters in Nagasaki on Monday. He added that more research remains to be done, but he is also considering raising the wreck and putting it on public display.

A section of the ship's hull was first found last year but a full archeological excavation only began on September 30.

The researchers uncovered a keel nearly 50 feet long and more than 1.5 feet wide. Lengths of wood planking were still buried beneath silt alongside the main spars, they said.

The planks were as much as 9 inches wide and nearly 4 inches thick and were still coated in a grey paint. The planks had been held in place by nails and more than 300 bricks that were used as ballast were located throughout the site, along with ink stones and shards of Chinese ceramics.

The archeologists have also recovered weapons and identified the remains of the ship's ribs and bulkheads.

The mast and upper structures have been lost, the researchers said, but historians are marvelling at the discovery of the first near-complete pre-medieval wooden ship in Japan.

Kosuka Umazume, director of the Japan Society for Nautical Research, said it was a "miracle" that so much of the vessel had been recovered in such good condition and after such a long period of time.



Vlad the Impaler: Prince Charles a descendant of Dracula?

Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula, is an ancestor of Prince Charles. No this isn't a Halloween trick.

By Associated Press / October 27, 2011



The truth is out: Prince Charles is related to Vlad the Impaler.


He makes the comments on an upcoming TV show to promote his interest in protecting the forests of Romania's Transylvania region.


Charles says genealogy shows that he is related to Vlad, giving him a stake in the future of Romania. The prince has long worked to conserve the forests and has bought a home in the region.


On a visit to Romania earlier this year, he called Transylvania a national treasure because of its unspoiled landscape and centuries-old rural farming traditions.



Wrecks that promise to unlock the mystery of Francis Drake's final resting place

Newly-discovered wrecks off the coast of Panama are believed to be the first physical remains found of the ships of Sir Francis Drake. Philip Sherwell joined the divers searching for his final resting place.

By Philip Sherwell, Pirate's Cove, Panama7:45PM BST 29 Oct 2011


Seen through a diver's mask, the wooden ribs of the two vessels fan across the seabed like the carcasses of animals stripped bare.

Deeptrek explores the bay of Drake Island in search of more evidence of what appears to be the remains of two vessels of Sir Francis Drake

Lying in the warm, shallow waters of the Caribbean, the ancient timbers almost certainly date back more than four centuries to the voyages of one of England's great seafaring heroes.

These newly-discovered wrecks are believed to be the first physical remains found of the ships of Sir Francis Drake, scourge of the Spanish and the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

The discovery, off Portobelo in modern-day Panama, was made after a complex maritime detective operation that began in archives in London and was completed deploying the latest in British underwater technology.

Now, after a breakthrough that one of the team behind the project compares to finding the Titanic wreck, they are hoping to locate the final resting place of Drake himself.

The hero of the Armada died of dysentery in 1596, and his body - in a full suit of armour and lead-lined coffin - is known to have been laid to rest near the ships, which were scuttled shortly afterwards to prevent them falling into Spanish hands.

The Sunday Telegraph was granted exclusive access to the mission that is being conducted from the aptly-named Pirate's Cove by Deeptrek, a British-run subsea exploration company, working for the site's permit holder, IMDI Eco Olas.

Off a coastline of sheltered bays and malarial jungle, the waters here once teemed with Spanish and British fleets and pirates and privateers, all fighting for a share of plunder from the treasures of the New World.

So it is a thrilling sensation to look through a diving mask at what is very probably English oak hammered together in an Elizabethan shipyard in the late 1500s, at the height of the Crown's battles for maritime supremacy with Spain.

"To find two such vessels is very special," said James Sinclair, the team's marine archaeologist, as we bobbed above the wrecks between a rocky outcrop and headland long denoted on maps as Drake's Island and Drake's Point.

"And if as seems very likely these are confirmed as Drake's vessels, it will be a huge breakthrough for the world of maritime history and underwater archaeology."

Mr Sinclair was the first archaeologist to explore the wreck of the Titanic, but for him the current project surpasses the excitement of even that.

"The find here in Panama is a bit like a time travel," he said. "Once you have donned your scuba gear, you plunge not only through the water but through time and, if your imagination is keen, you find yourself in the hold of a sailing vessel from long ago.

"I have been one of the lucky people to push back that veil of time just a little and peer into the past. We are just starting to scratch the surface of one of the richest maritime areas for historical shipwrecks in the world."

Deeptrek is exploring several wreck-rich sites under contract to IMDI Eco Olas, which was issued with exploration permits by the Panamanian government. Funding has come from Panama, Australia and America.

In a wide-brimmed straw hat, Jay Usher, the company's Liverpudlian president, powered a speedboat towards the wreck site through the sticky tropical heat last week.

"What we're discovering out here already is incredibly exciting," he said. "And if we could locate and map Drake's coffin, then for a lad from Liverpool who did his first commercial dive in the Mersey, that really would be thrilling."

Mindful of sensitivities about maritime graves and wrecks, Mr Usher makes clear, however, that there would no "Arise, Sir Francis" moment.

"We have no intention of doing anything to disturb his grave or raising the coffin," he said. "It would be for the Panamanian authorities, in consultation with the British government, to decide what to do if we find the site.

"We are not treasure hunters. We are conducting a scientific research mission under licence to the Panamanian permit-holders and government."

There is compelling evidence that the wrecks are the remains of the Elizabeth and the Delight, the vessels on Drake's last voyage to the New World.

In London, Trevor McEniry, a historical researcher hired by Pat Croce - the former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team turned pirate enthusiast, had done the initial detective legwork. He trawled through archives, journals and maps to pinpoint a grid to search for the wrecks and the coffin.

Tropical diseases had cut a lethal swathe through Drake's crews in 1596, meaning there was not enough manpower to continue with the full fleet. So the decision was taken to empty, torch and scuttle two ships just off the coast here.

Such was the hatred of the Spanish instilled by Drake that the vessels were meticulously stripped and then destroyed to avoid anything falling into enemy hands.

And as Mr Sinclair demonstrated by diving down to the seafloor to rub sediment from the remains, the timber fragments of these newly-charted wrecks are scorched black - in keeping with the how the missing vessels were burned after they were run aground in shallow water.

Earthenware recovered from the site, as well as the dowels and nailholes used in the ship-making process, are all indicative of that period. And of course the cartographical clues – the wrecks lie off Drake's Point, near Drake's Island – are also clear, but it will require further testing and dating of the remains for confirmation.

Drake himself had died from dysentry shortly before the vessels were scuttled on this last ill-fated mission. He was buried at sea in his armour, according to his wishes, in a lead coffin (thought by Mr Sinclair to be constructed of the lead-lined wood used to make ships of that era) and laid to rest "under the rock", according to one journal – very possibly a reference to Drake's Island.

He had been variously a naval captain, privateer, slaver and explorer. He circumnavigated the world from 1577 to 1580 in the Golden Hind, was knighted by Elizabeth I in 1581 and served as vice-admiral of the English fleet in the Spanish Armada in 1588 when his tactics of dispatching burning "fireships" into enemy lines played a key role in the victory.

For those legendary exploits, he was a hero to the English. But his raids on King Philip II's fleets and the sacking of his ports in the New World made him a pirate in the eyes of Spaniards, to whom he was known as el Draque (the Dragon), the Spanish pronunciation of his name.

The lure of Portobelo Bay for Drake was the treasure ships carrying gold, silver and emeralds back to the Old World from the magnificent natural harbour. With twin forts on the headlands, it was one of the most important ports in the Spanish Main.

That is difficult to imagine now. The town is an impoverished Caribbean backwater, although the harbour and cove still attract foreign seafarers, from wealthy American and European yacht-owners to drug-runners from neighbouring Columbia.

In the late 1500s, however, the customs house there was so crammed with precious metals and jewels thatsilver would be piled up in the streets until it was loaded on to the vessels. It was little wonder that Drake referred to the coast here as "the treasure house of the world".

The Deeptrek team also showed The Sunday Telegraph other period artifacts from a nearby site – including a conquistador's armour, axes, cannons and cannonballs dating back to shortly after Columbus.

These are destined for museum collections in Panama while IMDI intends to turn the presumed Drake wrecks into an international study centre.

"This is an incredibly exciting discovery for the people of Panama and the world," said Ernesto Cordovez, president of IMDI. "We think that can become an academic programme for students specialising in maritime subjects. It will be a great project for us."

Still missing is any sign of Drake himself, whom several previous searches have failed to locate.

But with the benefit cutting-edge mapping, sonar, remote sensing and subsea camera technology supplied by UK-based firms Seatronics and Bowtech, the 415-year-old mystery may finally be coming to a close.