After 240 years, archaeologists may have solved the mystery of the HMS Endeavour

Probably not what the wreck looks like now.
Probably not what the wreck looks like now.
Image: Archives NZ/CC BY 2.0
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In August 1778, three years into the American War of Independence, 13 ships were scuttled off the coast of Rhode Island. Among them was a vessel called the Lord Sandwich II. Once known as HMS Endeavour, it was 100 ft (30 m) of oak, elm, and pine—and the vessel on which captain James Cook had reached Botany Bay, on the east coast of Australia, eight years earlier, changing the course of history Down Under.

For nearly 250 years, this ship has lain undisturbed and elusive, gradually disintegrating in an unknown spot on the New England seabed. But after a 25-year archaeological study of the area, researchers are honing in on the wreck.

In a statement, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project said it had pinpointed the ship’s final resting place. The search is down to “one or two” sites, the BBC reports. By 2020, experts say, the vessel may be definitively identified and partially excavated—just in time for the 250th anniversary of Cook’s voyage to Australia.

On Friday (Sept. 21), the project plans to formally announce the results of its study and share a “3-D photogrammetric image of a promising site.”

After examining all 13 vessels, it said, researchers were confident that they now had the right site. “We can say we think we know which one it is,” RIMAP director Kathy Abbass told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It is exciting. We are closing in. This is a vessel that is significant to people around the world, including Australia.”

But in order to be sure, researchers will have to match up timber samples from the wreck with what they know about the vessel and its neighbors. While many of the other ships sunk in the bay were made of American or Indian timbers, the Endeavour used English oak, from the north of the country. Forensic analysis will help archaeologists confirm what they believe—or hope—they may already know.