Archaeology breakthrough: Discovery of incredible shipwreck in ‘nightmare reef’

Cooper’s Treasure: Marine archaeologist discovers shipwreck

The shipwreck had languished off the coast of Mexico for 200 years before its discovery by fishermen in the region. The vessel is called Manuel Polanco, named after the man who found it. It was found unexpectedly in an underwater grave 21 miles from Majahual on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Researchers were able to unveil more information about the wreck, saying its wood dated back to the 18th or 19th century.

Despite its lengthy period underwater, metal parts, iron ingots, an anchor and an eight-foot cannon were all found intact.

Archaeologists said the ship likely hit the Chinchorro Bank, which was known for centuries as ‘Nightmare reef’ or ‘Sleep-robbing reef’ due to the dangers it posed to sailors.

Researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) were able to locate the Polanco vessel after the tip-off from locals.

Mr Polanco has found numerous shipwrecks during his life, the organisation noted.

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They said: “The fishermen are the ones who know Chinchorro best since they navigate it daily to earn their living, diving the Caribbean waters to find fish, lobsters or conch, that they sell in Mahahual or Xcalak, and often they happen to find submerged archaeological contexts.

“Manuel Polanco is an example of this because although he is now retired from diving, in the ’60s and ’70s, he found the remains of various shipwrecks, including two of the most iconic in Banco Chinchorro: ’40 Cañones’ and ‘The Angel’.”

Remarkably, Mr Polanco contacted archaeologists to inform them of the find in the 1990s, but they only made their first dive to the site of the wreck in 2020.

Laura Carrillo Márquez, SAS researcher and head of the Banco Chinchorro Project, said: “It lies directly on the reef barrier where the ocean current is strong.

“Only the solid elements remain, encrusted into the reef.”

Ms Marquez said the anchor on the ship was found “active” – indicating the crew aboard the vessel saw the reef approaching and prevented to slow the vessel down.

She continued: “Although some of the vestiges seem to indicate a British affiliation, the INAH researcher clarifies that this hypothesis must be yet corroborated or discarded, through analyses that will be meticulously done, taking care of the natural environment of the site.”

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The Manuel Polanco is the 70th wreck to be found in the area, according to BBC.

Mr Polanco is retired and in his 80s. His age meant he was not able to assist INAH in locating the wreck, but his son was able to go instead.

He wrote for Newsweek after the find: “It fills me with pride that my son Benito was a guide for the recent expedition to the “Manuel Polanco”, since he has spent many years doing the same as I have, and already sailed from Florida to Venezuela and all the Antilles as well as the Pacific, in addition to following in my footsteps—I am very proud of him.”

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