Sainte-Marie Island, Madagascar

The study of Ambodifototra Bay located on the southwest coast of Sainte-Marie Island, itself located off the northeast coast of Island of Madagascar, is at the heart of this archaeological research project. The interest to explore and study this bay is linked to pirate occupation between the years 1680 and 1730, evidenced by numerous writings, archives and plans, dating from the end of the 17th and the first third of the 18th century. Indeed, this bay is known to have been at this period one of the main landmarks of pirates of the Indian Ocean with the establishment of sustainable camps made of perishable materials, the creation of a port, fortifications and batteries , and the development of a trade with pirates and merchants from the Caribbean and New England. It will also be important to try to measure the impact of these pirates on the environment and on local indigenous populations in order to better understand the history of the bay.


The aim of this archaeological mission is therefore to try to highlight the material vestiges of these installations thanks to research on the ground, in particular initially by pedestrian, aerial and underwater prospection, and secondly, by setting up a land excavation based on the results of surveys. Numerous plans and manuscripts (CAOM, Historical Defense Service) attest to the presence of these pirate occupations in the bay, in particular numerous fortifications and batteries. In addition, controversial American investigations between 2000 and 2015 have highlighted numerous underwater remains associated with a large quantity of archaeological objects most likely linked to the wreck of the pirate ship Fiery Dragon sunk in the bay in 1721 and belonging to the pirate William Condon aka Christopher Condent, aka Edward Congdon.

The constitution of a team of international archaeologists, mainly French, and Malagasy, is at the heart of the project. The project is directed by Jean Soulat (LandArc Laboratory, Craham - UMR 6273 - University of Caen Normandy) and John de Bry (Center for Historical Archaeology, Melbourne Beach, Floride, USA). Other archaeologists are associated with the project: Nicolas Morelle (LA3M - Aix-Marseille University), Alexandre Coulaud (Inrap Guyane, NAOM) both specialists in colonial defensive systems (Indian Ocean, Guyana and Caribbean) and artillery, Julie Marchand (HiSoMA, CNRS, MOM) for the study of ceramics, but also Benoit Duverneuil (independent researcher), engineer specializing in remote sensing means (drone, ROV, LIDAR, infrared). Jean-Aimé Rakotoarisoa (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco), Antananarivo University of Madagascar - Institute of Civilizations Museum of Art and Archeology (ICMAA) is our scientific consultant.

Objectives of the future mission

This research project develops a series of objectives which will be carried out within the framework of an archaeological program with a targeted start in 2021. The objectives are as follows:

  • Defense systems study according to old and current cartography (GIS, LIDAR, surveys, photogrammetry, pedestrian prospection)
  • Inventory and study of batteries still in place (GIS, LIDAR, pedestrian prospecting, inventory, measurement and study on site)
  • Study of the remains of pirate camps on the coast (GIS, LIDAR, pedestrian prospecting, collection of surface furniture, use of metal detector and study of material culture in situ)
  • State of the underwater remains in the bay, pirate shipwrecks (wreck mapping and photogrammetry, underwater surveys, use of the metal detector, establishment of a grid, collection of material culture already salvaged and on land, study of the material culture on site, collection of wood samples for analysis)
  • Realization of a GIS common to the whole project (terrestrial and underwater)
  • In situ study of material culture collected on site (land and underwater surveys) with re-contextualization, geolocation, detailed inventory (measurements, weight, description) and a comparative analysis

This mission project will soon be submitted to the Malagasy authorities in charge of underwater heritage as well as to Malagasy archaeologists.


De Bry 2006 :
J. De Bry, « Christopher Condent’s Fiery Dragon: Investigating an Early 18th-Century Pirate Shipwreck off the Coast of Madagascar », dans : R. K. Skowronek & C. R. Ewen, X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, University Press of Florida, Gainesville 2006, 368 p.

De Bry 2016 :
J. de Bry, « Recherches sur les épaves de navires de pirates des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles à l’îlot Madame, Sainte-Marie de Madagascar », dans G. Buti, P. Hrodej (dir.), Histoire des pirates et des corsaires de l’Antiquité à nos jours, CNRS Editions, 2016, p. 449-464.

De Bry 2019 :
J. de Bry, « La fouille de l’épave pirate du Fiery Dragon », A la Découvertes des Pirates, Dossiers d’Archéologie, 394, 2019, p. 50-53.

De Bry 2019 :
J. de Bry, « L’épave du Fiery Dragon 1721, navire du pirate William Condon, île Sainte-Marie, Madagascar », dans J. Soulat (dir.), Archéologie de la Piraterie des XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles. Etude de la vie quotidienne des flibustiers dans les Caraïbes et l’océan Indien, Hors collection, Editions Mergoil, 2019, p. 109-123.

De Bry, Roling 2011 :
J. de Bry et M. Roling, Archaeological Report Madagascar 2010. Research on 17th and 18th Century Pirate Shipwrecks at îlot Madame, Sainte-Marie, Melbourne Beach, Florida, 2011, 29 p.

De Bry, Roling 2016 :
J. de Bry, M. Roling, « Revisiting the Fiery Dragon », dans C. R. Ewen, R. K. Skowronek (dir.), Pieces of Eight. More Archaeology Piracy, Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2016, p. 57-92.

Morelle 2019 :

N. Morelle, « L’île Sainte-Marie de Madagascar, bastion et repaire de forbans », A la Découverte des Pirates, Dossiers d’Archéologie, 394, 2019, p. 66-69.

Morelle 2019 :
N. Morelle, « Des fortifications de pirates dans le port de l’île Sainte-Marie (Madagascar) à la fin du XVIIe siècle ? », dans J. Soulat (dir.), Archéologie de la Piraterie des XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles. Etude de la vie quotidienne des flibustiers dans les Caraïbes et l’océan Indien, Hors collection, Editions Mergoil, 2019, p. 187-195.

Rogozinski 2000 :
J. Rogozinski, Honor Among Thieves: Captain Kidd, Henry Every & the Pirate Democracy in the Indian Ocean, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, 2000, 256 p.