Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Archaeologist takes second look at cannon


September 25, 2007

An archaeologist is taking a second look at a small cannon found by fishermen off the Virginia coast more than two decades ago in hopes of determining how it got to the bottom of the ocean — and who left it there.

Rod Mather, a professor of maritime history and underwater archaeology at the University of Rhode Island, has studied the 25-square-mile area surrounding the site where the cannon was found the past two summers.

Some historians believe the 4-feet-long, 300-pound cannon, which was loaded when it was found 24 years ago, is an English cannon from the 1580s, making it one of the oldest English artifacts ever found in the Americas.

Others argue that even if the cannon dates back to the 1580s, it could have been in use in the early 17th century when more ships were up and down the Virginia and Carolina coasts.

"If it's a shipwreck, and it's an English shipwreck, it would be the earliest English shipwreck in the New World," Mather said. "If you think about what we know about American history, the fuzzy part is the part about the early exploration of America."

Mather also questions if the cannon could have even more significant historical value _ possibly answering the question of what happened to the so-called Lost Colony.

The "disappearance" of 117 English colonists in the late 1580s on what is now Roanoke Island in North Carolina has baffled experts. Mather suggests the cannon possibly could have been left by the colonists _ either because their ship sank or by simply falling overboard _ as they fled in search of better living conditions.

Curators at East Carolina University in the mid-1980s _ where Mather was a graduate student who worked on the cannon _ dated it to 1587 and determined it was an English, land-based piece called a "falcon."

John White, whose 1590 expedition to Roanoke discovered that the colonists were no longer there, wrong in his journal: "From thence we went along by the water side, towards the point of the creek to see if we could find any of their boats or pinnaces, but we could perceive no sign of them, nor any of the last falcons and small ordinance (sic) which were left with them, at my departure from them."

"It's easy to run wild with that," Mather said. "But it's also true."


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