Surprise Shipwreck Find Yields Intact Hull, Cargo

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May 18, 2015

After a four-year effort, archaeologists have identified a nearly intact shipwreck as part of a colonial Spanish fleet. The ship was the Nuestra Senora de Encarnacion, a Spanish vessel that sank during a storm in 1681. Archaeologists found the ship in 40 feet of water off the coast of Panama in 2011.

Part of the famed Tierra Fierme fleet, the ship was built in Mexico. Among the artifacts found by researchers are more than 100 boxes of ceramics, lead seals mule shoes, nails, scissors, sword blades, and wooden barrels.

The researchers were pleasantly surprised by how well preserved the ship's cargo was. In fact, the bottom half of the hull (left), submerged in the sea floor for 319 years, is intact. Other such wrecks usually fall victim to a combination of human looters and ocean bacteria and worms.

They found the ship while searching for other known wrecks in the same area, including those commanded by one of the most famous of pirates, Captain Henry Morgan. A group of Morgan's ships is known to have disappeared in 1671 while sailing to Panama City.

The researchers were equally excited at what the intact hull bottom could tell them about how ships from that time period were made. Not many such examples remain.

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