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The underwater city of Port Royal is a World Heritage Site contender






Robert Marx, an ex-marine and experienced scuba diver, became fascinated about Port Royal, the “sunken city” when he was just a young teen (Marx 3). Marx probably had the most in depth excavation, and discovered the most artifacts. His excavation included the use of aerial photography, air lift compressors, underwater metal detectors, buoys, and he created charts and grids of the sites (Marx 112). Excavating in these underwater conditions however did provide challenges for Marx and his team; sharks would get uncomfortably close, sediment had piled up over remains throughout years of disturbances and tides, visibility underwater was poor, and constant hours of scuba diving takes a toll on the body (113-128). Despite these difficulties, Marx uncovered a tombstone, an iron gun, muskets, cannon balls, shoes, axes, a workbench, gold wedding bands, a chinese porcelain figurine, a pocket watch, even some human bones, and hundreds of silver coins, liquor bottles, and bricks (220-230).


Also, to his suprise, Marx discovered pieces of obsidian used in spanish pottery dating to the period of two Columbus wrecks; Capitana and the Santiago and Spanish coins dating from the later 1600s (258). These dates were confirmed by thermoluminescence and carbon-14 dating (277). Unfortunately from Marx’s account, the Jamaican government kept most of the artifacts for “safekeeping” but took care of them poorly, in which Marx believed was because the Jamaican government was more interested in the publicity of the lost city and its treasures than actual historical and archaeological significance (265). To Marx’s dismay, many of the artifacts were put on display in the Port Royal Museum, which was broken into and almost everything was stolen; most likely being sold off to tourists (289).


 Port Royal, Jamaica

Robert's project was the fourth quest, to dive on the sunken city, in hopes of discovering more about the submerged pirate haven. Port Royal, was held to be the wickedest place on earth, dashed by the waves as punishment for the brothels, copious taverns and bawdy lifestyles from the privateers wealth, by way of an act of God.







A diver using SCUBA gear to explore Port Royal. The most extensive excavations in terms of pure volume were carried out by Robert Marx (1967Marx, 1973), who used dredging techniques that were by today's standards extremely crude and brutal to the site. Noteworthy among the contributions of more-refined studies of the site (on land and in the water) are the work of Philip Mayes (1972;Mayes and Mayes, 1972) The studies by Hamilton and his students represent an important shift in methodological and technical expertise, with resulting reports providing some of the most refined details in material and spatial analysis for the region (Hamilton, 1986 1988(Hamilton, , 2006) (Hamilton and Woodward, 1984). Reports and publications from the studies conducted by the Institute for Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University (INA) resulted in details on material use and social interaction in this important eighteenth-century port town (Brown, 1996;Darrington, 1994;Dewolf, 1998;Fox, 1998;Franklin, 1992;Gotelipe-Miller, 1990;Hailey, 1994;Heidtke, 1992;McClenaghan, 1988;Smith, 1995;Trussel, 2004; see also Downing and Harris [1982] for underwater studies of Bermuda and Leshikar-Denton [1991] for studies of the Cayman Islands).





Captain Sir Henry Morgan was a pirate, and privateer, ending up as the Governor of Jamaica. He was buried at Palisadoes Cemetery, then Port Royal was washed into the Caribbean Sea, the result of an earthquake and tsunami in 1692. Not to be seen again for 300 years.






Underwater explorations and excavations have been conducted in Port Royal over the years. Here is a listing of such excavations. After the 1692 earthquake, people tried to salvage anything considered to be valuable from the area, which became known as the Sunken City.

1859: Jeremiah Murphy a naval diver, using a diving bell located the remains of Fort James.

1956 - 1959: Edwin Link dug test pits in the King's Warehouse and Fort James.


1960: Norman Scott explored Fort Carlisle.

1965 - 1968: Robert Marx excavated between twenty to thirty buildings in the Sunken City.


1969 - 1970: Philip Mayes Excavation. Mayes was hired by the Jamaican National Trust Commission to continue research. Mayes is accredited with uncovering St. Paul’s Church of Port Royal, the largest building of the 17th century city.

1981 - 1990: Institute of Nautical Archaeology of the Texas A&M (Agricultural & Mechanical) University in close cooperation with the Archaeology Division excavated buildings near the intersection of Queen and High Street.








Port Royal mangroves: Hurricane Refuge lagoon, Fort Rocky lagoon and Cemetery lagoon.





An earthquake in the Caribbean struck Port Royal, Jamaica, on the 7th of June 1692. A stopped pocket watch found in the harbor during a 1959 excavation conducted by Edwin Link and his wife Marion, indicated that the resultant tsunami occurred around 11:43 AM local time.

Known as the "storehouse and treasury of the West Indies" and as "one of the wickedest places on Earth", Port Royal was, at the time, the unofficial capital of Jamaica and one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in the Americas, as well as a common home port for many of the privateers and pirates operating on the Caribbean Sea. Sometimes called the Sodom of the Universe.

The 1692 earthquake caused most of the city to sink below sea level. About 2,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and the following tsunami, and another 3,000 people died in the following days due to injuries and disease.






Port Royal is a contender for World Heritage Site listing to become a landmark or area with legal protection by an international convention administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance. 











 A timepiece was recovered from the sands at old Port Royal, with the exact moment recorded, when the wearer was taken by the tsunami, as being 11:43 on the 7th June 1692.










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