Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageExplorer's 'pirate wreck' claim false, says UNESCO

By Gaelle Borgia (AFP)     Jul 14, 2015 in World

UNESCO on Tuesday threw cold water over an American explorer's claims that he had discovered the sunken treasure of infamous 17th-century pirate William Kidd off the coast of Madagascar.

Marine archaeologist Barry Clifford declared in May that he had solved an enduring mystery of the high seas by locating the wreck of Kidd's "Adventure Galley" ship and a 50-kilogramme (110-pound) silver ingot.

But a team from UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural body, visited the site to verify Clifford's claims and brusquely dismissed his highly-publicised announcement.

The UNESCO report said the "silver" ingot was just a lead weight, and that the supposed shipwreck was old rubble in a bay of Sainte Marie, a small island east of Madagascar.

"What had been identified as the Adventure Galley of the pirate Captain Kidd has been found... to be a broken part of the Sainte-Marie port constructions. No ship remains have been found," the report said.

"Also the metal ingot, recovered apparently from the above site, is not a 'silver treasure', but is constituted of 95% lead.

The "silver" bar allegedly recovered by Marine archaeologist Barry Clifford on the Island ...
The "silver" bar allegedly recovered by Marine archaeologist Barry Clifford on the Island of Sainte Marie, which a UNESCO report said was just a lead weight
Manjakahery Tsiresena, AFP/File

"It does not contain silver and has been identified as a lead-ballast piece."

Clifford, who is making a television documentary based on his hunt, garnered world headlines in May where he unveiled the "ingot" before Madagascan President Hery Rajaonarimampianina and the US and British ambassadors.

But UNESCO soon raised doubts about Clifford's work, and criticised him for not having a professional archaeologist supervising the dive.

The legendary Captain Kidd, who was born in Scotland in about 1645, was first employed by British authorities to hunt pirates, before he himself turned into a ruthless criminal.

He is thought to have scuttled the Adventure Galley, which was armed with 34 big guns, during an expedition to the Indian Ocean.

- Lost plunder? -

After looting a ship laden with valuable cargo in 1698, Kidd was caught, imprisoned and questioned by the British parliament before being executed in 1701.

A map locating Sainte Marie Island where explorers thought they found pirate William Kidd's tre...
A map locating Sainte Marie Island where explorers thought they found pirate William Kidd's treasure
A-C. Huet/K. Tian, AFP

The fate of much of his booty has remained a mystery, sparking intrigue and excitement for generations of treasure-hunters.

Michel L'Hour, head of the UNESCO team, was sharply critical of Clifford's methods.

"Did anyone see a single element which would allow us to date the site?" he told AFP in Sainte Marie.

"How can anyone just get out of the water and say, 'I've found Captain Kidd's treasure'?"

After a team of seven divers, archaeologists, curators and photographers searched the muddy waters for four days, L'Hour said the rubble could be a pile of stones dropped in the bay to create the base of a sea wall.

"We have to ask ourselves if this is not the beginning of a jetty," he said.

Clifford's team reacted strongly to UNESCO's report, saying it stood by its claims.

"I believe UNESCO is going to take a very good thing away from Madagascar and the people of Sainte Marie," said Clifford's son Brandon Clifford, who works with him.

US marine archaeologist Barry Clifford  -- who in 2014 claimed to have located Christopher Columbus&...
US marine archaeologist Barry Clifford -- who in 2014 claimed to have located Christopher Columbus' ship 'The Santa Maria' off the coast of Haiti -- is leading the quest to find William Kidd's ship near Madagascar
Don Emmert, AFP/File

"It's incredibly unfortunate."

Documentary producer Sam Browne wrote a letter to L'Hour expressing "deep concern" that their work may be discredited.

He insisted the team had conducted "the most comprehensive geophysical study ever done" of the bay.

This is the second time UNESCO has clashed with Clifford.

Last year, he claimed he had identified the wreck of Christopher Columbus's flagship that sank in 1492 off the northern coast of Haiti.

The claim was soon disproved by UNESCO, which determined it was a ship from a later period.

Clifford is best known as the discoverer and excavator of the world's first fully verified pirate shipwreck, the Whydah, in 1984.

Sainte Marie is a haven of pirate lore, attracting treasure-hunters and shipwreck enthusiasts from around the world.

More about Madagascar, History, Archaeology, Unesco
More news from