During multiple expeditions conducted in 2000 and 2001, the Center for Historic Shipwreck Preservation‘s archaeological team discovered a number of shipwreck sites identified by the initial observation of ballast piles, cannons, timbers and a scattered exposed artifacts in the Baie des Pirates, St. Marie, Madagascar. The Center’s archaeology team raised the hypothesis that one of these wrecks could be the Adventure Galley, commanded by the infamous pirate William Kidd; but a small test pit excavation revealed artifacts of a later date than the time of sinking in 1698.
Further historical research suggested that a ship known to have been lost in the immediate vicinity in 1721, which was a likelier candidate, given the location and spectrum of artifacts. The wreck site was finally tentatively identified by as the Fiery Dragon of the pirate Captain William Condon (also known as “Christopher Condent”).
In addition the Center collaborated with a team of geologists and geophysicists in conduction the initial surveys of what could be an early 18th century tunnel complex on Ile au Forbans in the Baie des Pirates. Deep vertical and lateral chambers were detected and scattered iron artifacts were observed. The team believes that the tunnels were made by pirates for the purpose of a startegic and defensive fortification, and as a possible location to hide stolen goods.
In 2010 the Center led a follow up expedition to further investigate the Fiery Dragon wreck site, other nearby wrecks and the tunnel complex on Ile au Forbans. The Center’s focus was to obtain more evidence on the nature of the sites, confirm their identity, and the possibility that the debris field of the wrecks might overlap one or more times. The expedition of 2010 also conducted a successful geophysical remote sensing survey of the harbor area in an attempt to locate aditional submerged and terrestrial cultural resources associated with the pirate settlements of Sainte Marie.
In 2015, the Center led yet another expedition to St. Marie, which included a team of Spanish, English, American, Australian, and Malagasy archaeologists, geologists and geophysicists. The objective was to conduct an archaeological campaigning, film a documentary and to restore the local museum on Ilot Madame. The team developed a complete study of the area by applying the combination of a side scan sonar survey, magnetometer, sub-bottom profile and surface surveys that included two test pits.
Based on the survey results, number of artifacts and shipwreck sites found, it can be expected that subsequent expeditions will yield an exponentially greater amount of material culture and insight to the lives of the St. Marie pirates. The project requires careful planning and organization of conservation work. The local museum at Ilôt Madame need’s to be further equipped and organized to conserve artifacts of an organic nature such as wood and bone. Future expeditions will therefore focus on more direct capacity building and development with additional improvements to the local museum as a place to secure, conserve and exhibit material culture from submerged environments. This will benefit both the local community, as well as the expedition team.
A refurbished museum housing a permanent exhibition on pirates of Madagascar, will prove a major tourist attraction that will lead to both a positive and significant contribution to the local economy as well as to the knowledge of the cultural history of St. Marie and Madagascar in general. It provides the unique opportunity to house and curate this unique cultural heritage and provide an educational tool within reach of the actual wreck sites that can reach a global audience virtually. Having a permanent research base set up at the museum ensures that the process of excavation and conservation of artefacts can be made more effective and efficient. It also can lead to empowerment of local researchers and to build up capacity on research and conservation of artifacts and the marine environment of the surrounding area.
The Center envisions a multi-year collaborative project at St. Marie in order to achieve the above mentioned goals of researching the pirate wrecks, improving the museum and contributing to the peoples livelihoods and wellbeing on St. Marie. With the excellent collaboration of the authorities of Madagascar and the local community at St. Marie Island, this project will be successful in recovering and preserving important cultural heritage for future generations.
The following archaeological reports and historical analysis comprises and summarizes the Center’s research results and reflects the work performed during the expeditions led from 2000-2015.