Thursday, October 01, 2009

World's Wickedest City, Port Royal (Jamaica)

One of the advantages of marine or nautical archeology is that, in many instances, catastrophic events send a ship or its cargo to the bottom, freezing a moment in time. A catastrophe that has helped nautical archeologists was the earthquake that destroyed part of the city of Port Royal, Jamaica. Once known as the "Wickedest City on Earth" for its sheer concentration of pirates, prostitutes and rum, Port Royal is now famous for another reason: "It is the only sunk city in the New World," according to Donny L. Hamilton.

Port Royal began its watery journey to the Academy Awards of nautical archeology on the morning of June 7, 1692, when, in a matter of minutes, a massive earthquake sent nearly 33 acres of the city -- buildings, streets, houses, and their contents and occupants -- careening into Kingston Harbor. Today, that underwater metropolis encompasses roughly 13 acres, at depths ranging from a few inches to 40 feet.

In 1981, the Nautical Archaeology Program of Texas A&M University, in cooperation with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), began underwater archaeological investigations of the submerged portion of the 17th-century town of Port Royal, Jamaica. Present evidence indicates that while the areas of Port Royal that lay along the edge of the harbor slid and jumbled as they sank, destroying most of the archaeological context, the area investigated by TAMU / INA, located some distance from the harbor, sank vertically, with minimal horizontal disturbance.

In contrast to many archaeological sites, the investigation of Port Royal yielded much more than simply trash and discarded items. An unusually large amount of perishable, organic artifacts were recovered, preserved in the oxygen-depleted underwater environment. Together with the vast treasury of complimentary historical documents, the underwater excavations of Port Royal have allowed for a detailed reconstruction of everyday life in an English colonial port city of the late 17th century.


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