Work by Texas A&M University researchers to find and salvage the remains of the “Mardi Gras,” a mystery ship discovered in more than 4,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, is chronicled in a new one-hour video by a film company that specializes in underwater productions.
Producer Rick Allen of Nautilus Productions led a team to film the ship, located off the Louisiana coast, making it the deepest recovery effort ever attempted in the gulf and a $4.8 million funding grant was provided by Okeanos Gas Gathering Co. to support the project.
The “Mardi Gras” shipwreck project is named after a gas pipeline in the area. The vessel sank more than 200 years ago but its identity and origin remain a mystery.
Texas A&M professor William Bryant and doctoral student Peter Hitchcock in the Department of Oceanography and other team members from the Center for Maritime Archaeology participated in the salvage work, as well as members of the Minerals Management Service, a division of the Department of the Interior.
At the time of the salvage work, Bryant said it was the first academic excavation of a deepwater shipwreck in the gulf, and added that because of the extreme depth, remote operated vehicles, or ROVs had to be used to retrieve objects from the ship. The pressure at the site of the wreck is about 1,700 pounds per cubic inch, Bryant said.
Video analysis of the wreck and the artifacts salvaged from the ship suggest that it was likely constructed in the early 1800s, the researchers said.
“The ‘Mardi Gras’ Shipwreck project is the deepest archaeological scientific endeavor ever attempted in the Gulf of Mexico, the first project in deep water to use archaeological principles,” Allen said. “As a filmmaker, the ‘Mardi Gras’ project is just the ultimate challenge. We were offshore and lived on a boat for three weeks, worked 24-7 and documented all the activities that are going on 4,000 feet below us.”
The scientific crew recovered at least 600 artifacts, including a 6-foot cannon, a cooking stove, lots of wine and rum bottles, some large stoneware jugs and plates and a captain’s spyglass. They discovered a number of hourglasses, and although their wooden frames were gone, the glass forms remained intact and the sand inside of them was dry. The crew tried but was ultimately unable to bring up a box of swords and muskets.
Allen has also worked as the project videographer on the wreck of the infamous pirate Blackbeard, the “ Queen Anne’s Revenge” that lies just off the coast of Beaufort, N.C., and also filmed the “ USS Monitor ,” a Civil War ironclad that sank off the North Carolina coast near Cape Hatteras in 1862.
“It’s a time capsule, in essence,” Hitchcock says of the “Mardi Gras” shipwreck, “and a lot of pieces are missing or eroded, but you need to take a look at all those pieces and put them together and come up with a story as accurately as you can and put it in historical context.”
Once the artifacts are fully conserved, they will be delivered to the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and many of the objects will be displayed by the Louisiana State Museum .
For more about the site and the video, go to http://www.nautilusproductions.com/mardigrasshipwreck.html
DVDs of the Mystery Mardi Gras Shipwreck documentary can be purchased from the Louisiana State Museum at http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/