Unexplored Sunken Pirate City in the Caribbean Will Finally Be Revealed

Seventeenth century life in Port Royal, Jamaica, commonly referred to as “the wickedest city on earth”, conjures up images of marauding pirates, treasure hunters, naval conquests, looting, and the overindulgence of food, alcohol, gambling, and women.  But the extravagances of the wealthiest port in the West Indies came to a rapid end at precisely 11:43 on 7 th June 1692, when Port Royal was consumed by an earthquake and two thirds of the city sank into the sea. 

Today, Port Royal is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Caribbean and the only sunken city in the Western Hemisphere, but very little of it was recovered or even mapped out, until now. A new project by the University of Nottingham has scanned the pirate city in high-resolution using optical mapping and robotic technology. It is hoped the survey will support the Jamaican application to obtain UNESCO world heritage status for the site.

An illustration of pirates in the Caribbean. Credit: William Gilkerson .

The Port Royal site is located on the southern coast of Jamaica. As the area commanded a large and well-protected harbour, along with deep water close to shore, Port Royal soon became an important trading centre in the Caribbean, and it was not long before it was the busiest and wealthiest port in the West Indies. Due to its strategic position on the trading routes between the New World and Spain, Port Royal was a highly attractive place for pirates who sought to become legitimate privateers. One of the most famous and successful privateers at Port Royal was Captain Henry Morgan, who eventually became the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. 

A map of Port Royal, Jamaica. Credit: Sharon Brown

Port Royal’s glory days soon came to an end when a massive earthquake and tsunami struck in 1692. In just a few minutes, two-thirds of the town (33 acres) sank into the sea, 1,600 people were killed and 3,000 were seriously injured.  Another 3,000 people died in the days following the…

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