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Tampa researchers find sunken ship

An excavation in the English Channel by the Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration brings underwater archaeology to the USF area.

Odyssey recently discovered a submerged warship in the English Channel — and more than four tons of coins that may be worth more than $1 billion. The warship, the H.M.S. Victory, was shipwrecked in 1744.

The discovery is significant both to Odyssey and history because it disproves a widely accepted theory of how the ship sank. It was thought the Victory sank because it hit rocks in the English Channel, but researchers now believe a storm caused the wreck.

Researchers and historians working for Odyssey look into possible archaeological finds, said Dan Bagley, an associate professor of mass communications who works for the company.

Once a possible location is determined, the company covers miles of ocean to determine the specific location of artifacts.

Bagley said he has not visited any of Odyssey’s excavation sites because since he has been with the company, most of its excavations have been overseas.

Though many may think of the find as the result of a treasure-hunting expedition, Bagley said he does not accept the term “treasure-hunter.”

“Archaeologists typically view us like untouchables,” he said.

He said he thinks of Odyssey’s work as underwater archaeology.

“The difference is knowledge. (Odyssey’s work involves) the business of information,” he said. “Archaeologists hate the idea of profit from archaeology, but Odyssey’s view is all (people) own the information.”

Jeff Moates, underwater archaeologist and director of the USF-hosted West Central Regional Center of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, said there is definitely a difference between treasure-hunting and underwater archaeology.

Moates, who is not connected with Odyssey, said he considers the company to be archaeologically based and unconcerned with hunting for treasure.

“Finding a shipwreck and seeking value only in the artifacts is what archaeology is all about,” Moates said. “(There are) philosophical differences between archaeologists and treasure-hunters. Artifacts aren’t for sale. We should treat any shipwreck as a historic site.”

“Look at possibilities rather than probabilities,” Bagley said, giving students advice that may have helped Odyssey find the H.M.S. Victory 100 km from where it was believed to lie.

Bagley said there is no link between Odyssey and USF, though Odyssey welcomes affiliates of the University to work with its researchers.

“One of the things Odyssey has held an olive branch up to is to invite underwater archaeology people to work (with us),” he said.

Bagley said that though underwater archaeology is a narrow field, Odyssey welcomes graduate students to work with the company on research.

Brittany Willard, a freshman majoring in pre-medical science, said she was interested in the story.

“It’s always interesting when people report finding treasure — especially such a huge find,” she said.

She also said the story’s mystery is increased because the wreck’s exact location has not been made public.

“I want to know the exact location,” she said. “(But) I realize they cannot say.”

The Discovery Channel will air a special episode of Treasure Quest on Thursday at 10:00 p.m. featuring the Odyssey find.