Has Captain Cook’s lost ship been found? Maybe.

US archaeologists dispute that the Atlantic shipwreck has been discovered.
Boats on the waters of Rhode Island.
Captain James Cook's boat, the Endeavour, is somewhere below the waters of Rhode Island. Craig Adderley via Pexels

The remains of the Endeavour, the lost ship that famed Captain James Cook sailed on his first voyage to Australia, have been found, the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) announced at an event in Sydney on Thursday.

But not all experts are in agreement with these conclusions. Immediately following ANMM’s announcement, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) released a statement saying the claim was “premature,” and that ANMM was “in breach of contract” of how the findings would be shared with the public. “There has been no indisputable data found to prove the site is that iconic vessel,” the RIMAP statement reads, “and there are many unanswered questions that could overturn such an identification.”

The Endeavour holds significance to Australians of British descent, because of its connection to Captain Cook. After Cook sailed the Endeavour to New Zealand and Australia from 1768 to 1771, the ship was sent back to England to be repaired and refitted into a naval transport ship. It was later renamed the Lord Sandwich, and purposefully sunk in the waters of Rhode Island in 1778. 

Researchers have been looking for the ship’s remains for almost 30 years. In 1993, archeologists and divers began archival research and sonar scans to narrow down regions where the ship could be. In 2016, RIMAP announced that it had located a wreckage site in Newport Harbor with five downed ships, one of which ANMM identified as the Endeavour this week. In 2018, experts were still conducting their forensic analyses of the timber from the vessels, working their way through the five shipwrecks. 

[Related: How scientists keep ancient shipwrecks from crumbling into dust]

In defense of the announcement, director and CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum,  Kevin Sumption, said in a statement that he feels satisfied with the evidence to make a certain and confident claim about the Endeavour’s whereabouts. “The last pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call,” he said. ANMM cites timber samples, historical records, and matching measurements and specifications, which it says all point to the Endeavour’s positive identification. “Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I’m convinced it’s the Endeavour,” said Sumption.

Outside experts have also weighed in. Maritime archeologist and shipwreck investigator John McCarthy, who is not involved with any Endeavour projects, wrote in The Conversation that “the repeated headlines about the Endeavour may have made some of the project team wary about definitive claims.” At the same time, he writes, “there will also be sites that we cannot prove the identity of with absolute certainty, and we will be forced to make our best judgment call.” 

In its statement, RIMAP seems adamant that it is not yet time to conclusively ID the Endeavour’s remains. The organization wrote that “when the study is done, RIMAP will post the legitimate report on its website,” and that “RIMAP’s conclusions will be driven by proper scientific process and not Australian emotions or politics.”

Meanwhile, ANMM said in its statement that identifying the Endeavour is of cultural importance, and “the focus is now on what can be done to protect and preserve it.”