According to a NOAA press release this week, the researchers were conducting an "engineering dive" to test a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) named Deep Discoverer. During the test, researchers stumbled across the remains of what appears to be a mid-19th century wooden sailing vessel.
— NOAA Ocean Explorer (@oceanexplorer) May 28, 2019
The ship, which was discovered about 160 miles from shore near the Florida Escarpment geological feature, is believed to have been around 37.8 meters (124 feet) long.
Marine archaeologists estimated that the ship was constructed in the mid-1800s by evaluating the form of the ship's stem and bow, the body of the hull as well as the remains of the windlass used to hoist anchors and haul on mooring lines, the press release explains. The ship's hull was found partly intact due to the copper sheathing covering the timber.
"However, this information does not indicate the age of the vessel at the time it was lost, which could have been decades later. Initial observations also noted copper and iron artifacts at the site, but no diagnostic artifacts reflecting the vessel's rig, trade, nationality, or crew were identified during the dive," the press release adds.
The researchers also speculated that the ship may have caught fire before sinking.
"All structure above the waterline is missing, and during the initial observations of the dive, there did not appear to be many traces of the standing rigging," NOAA wrote in its press release, referring to fixed lines, wires or rods that bolster the mast on sailing vessels.
"A number of timbers [the frames or ribs of a ship] appeared charred and some of the fasteners were bent, which may be an indication of burning. While the evidence is still being assessed, it is possible that this sailing vessel caught fire and was nearly completely consumed before sinking. This may explain the lack of artifacts from the rigging, decks, and upper works, as well as the lack of personal possessions," the press release explains.
Marine archaeologists will continue to examine video footage of the wreck captured by the ROV to draw additional conclusions.