Wrecks Of 18th-Century Warship And 19th-Century Steamer Discovered Under Mexican Coral Reef


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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welve cannons of an 18th century Dutch frigate. Helena Barba/INAH

The waters off Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula are usually filled with margarita-drinking tourists and fishermen, but beneath the sea's surface, archaeologists have recently come across a treasure trove of shipwrecks.

The remains of an 18th-century Dutch warship, a British Mississippi-style steamboat from the 19th century, and a lighthouse have been discovered near the seaside town of Sisal by marine archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. Along with these three main discoveries, the researchers have come across multiple pieces of weaponry, cannon balls, ceramic fragments, and other relics from the past four centuries.


The Dutch vessel was discovered with a 15-centimeter-thick (6-inch) layer of coral over it, some 40 kilometers (24 miles) northwest of Sisal. Remarkably, this ship is mentioned in a letter written by Antonio de Cortaire, the governor of the Yucatán in 1722, when ordering a revised lookout system upon learning the ship had wrecked there in February of that year.

It's currently known as "Madagascar Cannons," due to the cannons found nearby on the Madagascar reef, which the researchers suspect were thrown overboard to perhaps help prevent the ship from sinking.

"We documented… a total of 12 iron cannons whose dimensions – 2.5-meters-long by almost half a meter in diameter – bear a resemblance to the artillery of the Dutch war frigates that sailed the West Indies in the 19th century," Helena Barba Meinecke, head of Underwater Archeology Yucatan Peninsula, explained in a statement.




The Mississippi-type steamboat, dubbed “Vapor Adalio” after the grandfather of the fisherman who showed archaeologists where the wreck was hidden, was actually a British vessel. The researchers worked out it was built between 1807 and 1870, prior to the invention of a specific type of Scottish boiler.

In case you're wondering what a Mississippi-style steamboat actually looks like. Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

"A great discovery, along with remains of porcelain and stoneware, was [eight pieces] of cutlery that we recovered after making a stratigraphic study of the seabed at the site of the Adalio Vapor," said Meinecke. She added that these artifacts are particularly important because they speak of daily life on board during the 19th century, not just war and navigation.

Finally, the team also managed to discover the location of a destroyed 19th-century lighthouse. They believe this structure was around 8 meters (26 feet) high and 3.5 meters (11 feet) in diameter before being brought down by a tropical storm. Although, judging by the number of shipwrecks in the area, it doesn't seem like it was a very effective lighthouse.

This fieldwork has been ongoing for nearly 15 years, so these three main findings are just the tip of their discoveries.


"Today we have a number of wrecks, that is, boats, anchors, cannons and other isolated elements, which total more than 400 records within the Inventory and Diagnosis of Submerged Cultural Resources in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mexican Caribbean,” added Meinecke.


  • tag
  • coral reef,

  • coral,

  • shipwreck,

  • ship,

  • history,

  • Mexico,

  • marine archaeology