AUSTIN (KXAN) - When they hear the name Captain Morgan, most people think of the iconic image on a rum bottle. But it's much more for archeologist Fritz Hanselmann.
The Texas State University professor just returned from a mission off the coast of Panama to find the lost ships of the real life pirate.
It started with an initial survey in 2008, when Hanselmann's team made their first discovery. They returned in 2010 to recover six iron cannons.
"They're in very good shape," said Hanselmann said Friday on KXAN News Today. "Over time the cannons became encrusted in rock. The guns are largely intact and they have a lot of interesting markings that do lead us to believe that they could very well be Henry Morgan's."
The work went on to reveal a 17th century wooden shipwreck, potentially one of the five ships Morgan lost at the mouth of the Chagres River.
"The shipwreck itself is really cool. It's one of those things that -- it was under sand, it was buried -- we were testing this one area and the more we uncovered, the more excited we became."
This summer, the team returned to Panama, thanks to a grant from the makers of Captain Morgan Rum, to excavate artifacts from the shipwreck, in hopes of confirming its origin. The team recovered a sword, wooden barrels and more.
"We have a wooden box that we pulled off and everyone's dying to know what's inside," said Hanselmann. "It needs to be treated appropriately first, before we open it."
The artifacts are being preserved at the Patronato Panamá Viejo (Old Panama Trust) in Panama City. The organization is dedicated to preserving the ruins of the original Panama City that Morgan sacked in 1671. All of the items found will remain the property of the Panamanian government.
The site still begs for further exploration, so the team took steps to make it hard for amateur archeologists to know where to dig.
"There's a lot of surge and sand movement. We just cover it back up when we're done. That way it's not easy to find. You'd need to have the tools that we have to locate the site," said Hanselmann.
As for the professor's next step, he says, "Once you're done with the fun in the water, you have to come back and write about it. But we plan on going back and looking for more of Morgan's lost ships."
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