The wreck of the earliest ship from Europe's Age of Exploration, a Portuguese East Indiaman, has been discovered off the coast of Oman, the country's Ministry of Heritage and Culture announced Tuesday .
The ship, which sank off the coast of Al-Hallaniyah island in Oman's Dhofar region in May of 1503, was confirmed to have been from the fleet of the second India voyage of prominent Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who was the first to discover the direct sea route from Europe to India.
The shipwreck was initially discovered in 1998 by British ultra deep-sea operations company Bluewater Recoveries, but the archaeological excavation of the shipwreck that led to its identification began in 2013 when Oman took on the project.
Since Bluewater Recoveries and the Omani heritage and culture ministry started working together on the shipwreck, more than 2,800 artifacts have been recovered from the site.
Researchers believe the ship to be the "Esmeralda," which was commanded by Vicente Sodré, da Gama's maternal uncle and a descendant of English nobleman Fredrick Sudley, according to an interim report revealing the details of the wreck that was published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology .
"The evidence presented herein indicates the site is that of the wreck of an Iberian ship of the early 16th century. The artifact assemblage provides very strong links with Portugal as being the vessel's country of origin," the researchers wrote in the paper.
"Given the extreme rarity of European shipping in these waters at this date and the clear geographical correlation between the site and the historical record of the loss of the Sodré ships, it is difficult to believe that the site can be anything but the wreck of either the São Pedro or Esmeralda."
The researchers added that it was the historical record of the wreckage of the ship that indicated it belonged to Sodre's Esmeralda.
The recovered treasures that helped archaeologists identify the shipwreck include an incredibly rare silver coin called Indio (the Indian), it was one of two coins specifically commissioned by Portuguese king Dom Manuel in 1499 for trade with India .
"The indio is an especially important and exciting discovery as it is a legendary coin ordered by Dom Manuel to be struck after the return of da Gama's first voyage to India," the researchers stated.
The coin, of which there is only one other known example in the world, had acquired the status of a legend in archaeological circles, it was known as "the ghost coin of Dom Manuel".
Other key findings include a remarkably well-preserved bronze ship bell with an inscription that suggests the date of the ship's construction was 1498. In addition, the archaeologists found a significant copper-alloy disc marked with the Portuguese royal coat of arms, a personal emblem of Manuel.