Bahia Mujeres Shipwreck, Mexico (c. 1550)
This site is a ballast mound measuring approximately 20 by 4 to 8 m. It is located near Cancun, Mexico, and has never been excavated. The identity of the ship is unknown, but the shipwreck has been dated to the first half of the 16th century, based on the artifacts discovered. It has been suggested that these remains could be the ones of Francisco de Montejo’s ship La Nicolasa. Francisco de Montejo was the conqueror of the Yucatan Peninsula and maintained a presence on this coast between 1527 and 1529. It is possible that this shipwreck was once one of Montejo’s ships, although not likely the Nicolasa, because this vessel sailed back to Cuba and there is information even suggesting its loss on the Quintana Roo coast.1
It was found in 1958 by a fisherman named José de Jesus Lima and salvaged by him and his sons until 1960. The site was visited by Edwin Link in 1959, and by the avocational Mexican diving group CEDAM in 1960 and 1961. In 1984 it was surveyed by a joint team from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, and in 1990 it was again surveyed during a joint project from the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Texan group Ships of Discovery.
Some of the artifacts recovered right after its discovery, between 1958 and 1961, were lost for lack of treatment and some were even taken out of the country. We know that a small breech loading gun was raised in 1958 by the finders of this shipwreck, at least another gun was raised by Edwin Link in 1959, two or three guns were recovered by CEDAM in 1960, and another gun and an anchor were lifted in 1961 by the same diving group. The INA team report mentions small a five-tined grapnel anchor 1.45 m high, three guns, and three breechblocks. The grapnel anchor had a height of 1.45 m and a weight of less than 20 Kg. One of the anchors had a height of 3 m and an arm/shank ratio of 1:2.6. The position of the stock keys were on the same plane as the arms.
There is no information regarding the existence of hull remains under the ballast pile.
1. Smith, Roger "Treasure ships of the Spanish Main: The Iberian-American Maritime Empires" in Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas, Ed. by George Bass, T&H, 1988: 56-59.
Keith, Donald, and Smith, Roger, An Archaeology survey of an early 16th century shipwreck site in Bahia Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Cancun, Mexico, Report in the INA archives, 1984.
Smith, Roger "Treasure ships of the Spanish Main: The Iberian-American
Maritime Empires" in Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas, Ed. by George Bass, T&H, 1988.
Background: In Spanish
A principios de 1960 buzos aficionados recuperaron varias piezas de artillería de un naufragio que se creía era “La Nicolasa”. Este barco del siglo XVI era un barco de los principales de la flota de Francisco Montejo, conquistador de Yucatán. En aquel entonces las piezas no recibieron ningún tratamiento de conservación y algunas incluso fueron sacadas del país.
A principios de 1980, Donald Keith y Roger Smith, entonces investigadores del Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) de la Universidad de Texas A&M, investigaron acerca de dicho barco y en 1983-1984 el entonces Departamento de Arqueología Subacuática, la Secretaría de Marina de México, el INA y el instructor de buceo Alfonso Arnold colaboraron para hacer recorridos y reubicar el sitio.
En 1990 se llevó a cabo un proyecto conjunto con el Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y Ships of Discovery, con sede en Texas, para recorrer la zona y excavar (con pozos de muestreo) el sitio que se ubicó muy cerca de Cancún. Antes de que los arqueólogos iniciaran sus trabajos, los biólogos de la UNAM removieron los corales vivos de la zona para protegerlos, y una vez terminado el trabajo, volvieron a plantarlos. Los propios biólogos monitorearon el área durante un año, hasta que no hubo prácticamente ninguna evidencia de la intervención.
Información proporcionada por Pilar Luna Erreguerena