Rinvenuta una nave fantasma: le tracce e il mistero

A ghost ship has reappeared: investigating the mystery

It almost seems like the plot of one of the most intriguing and evocative pirate-themed films or the scary tales that were told in the days of the freebooters: a ghost ship it reappeared centuries later and its discovery could tell us a much more complex story than we think.


Clearly, the ship hasn’t really reappeared: its unfurled sails have not stood out in the fog and there are no ghost pirates moving on its dock. More realistically (and naturally) it was found part of his “body“: wooden planks, beams, pegs and metal rings. But what does this find tell us?

The Dolphin, whaler never returned to port

To find out more, you need to tell the story of the ghost ship in question. It was the year 1858 when the boat, called Dolphin, sailed from the coast of Warren, Rhode Island (in the USA). The ship was one whaler, that is a vessel used for hunting cetaceans. This means that the Dolphin was a robust means of navigation, capable of dominating the seven seas and also equipped with tools to capture, treat and dispose of large marine mammals.

It was also for this reason that his disappearance seemed surprising to the eyes of contemporaries, who never explained what had really happened. Not even the crew members, well 42 people rescued a full year later in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, he was able to explain what happened and how he survived for so long in the open sea. Also for this reason the mysterious history of the Dolphins continued to pass from mouth to mouth and a lot of documents were produced to shed light on the mystery.

The first discovery and the suppositions

It took, however, centuries and centuries before someone took charge of the story and decided to investigate again. In fact, interest in Dolphin was rekindled by the discovery, dating back to 2004, of a series of parts of a boat off the coast of Puerto Madryn, a gulf city on the northern coast of the Patagonian region of Argentina. . It consisted of parts of sturdy masts, whose original weight was around 300 tons, and of planks that seemed to be part of a particularly large hold.

These parts of the ship corresponded precisely to those of a whaling ship of the second half of the nineteenth century, but it was difficult, in 2004, to be able to say with certainty that it was the Dolphin. Various studies were therefore authorized and carried out slowly and accurately which involved (and continue to involve) experts in different scientific disciplines: archaeologists, anthropologists and dendrochronologists (experts in rings and age of trees) were asked to give their opinion.

Dendrochronology and the truth about the ghost ship

Just i dendrochronologists have made a difference. They were able to analyze not only the rings of the masts, but also those of the treated woods belonging to the hold and to the reinforced excavation, despite the wear and tear due to time and permanence in the water. Thanks to dendrochronology it was possible to trace both the age of the wood and the type of materials used to treat it: specific oils, waxes and reinforced copper, which corresponded to the reports on the Dolphin.

So what really happened to this ship? According to the scientists’ studies, the Dolphin has ventured too far out for her whaling purpose. The practice of going further was not uncommon at the time, because the cetaceans were decreasing significantly because of the hunters who killed them out of control. This would lead to a sailing time even longer than the boat, already loaded, could handle. Something would therefore have broken, causing the ship to be wrecked.


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