Iberian Ships

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The study of Iberian ships remains a small field of research in spite of the obvious importance of these vessels. As Karl Vandenhole, a journalist from Spiegel-TV, put it, they were the space shuttles of their time. Although their role in the history of Europe is frequently acknowledged, most have been destroyed by treasure hunters, and our ignorance about these amazing machines remains appalling. Very few studies about Iberian ships have been carried out, and even less published, in spite of the discovery of more than 70 suspected Iberian shipwrecks worldwide, all built and sailed between 1500 and 1700.

There are few doubts that the particular way in which these vessels were conceived and built derives from an older Mediterranean shipbuilding tradition, probably brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Italian and Arab shipwrights in the High Middle Ages. As the Iberian Peninsula was the nexus of two worlds, the Mediterranean ships were adapted there for oceanic navigation by incorporating construction features originating in the Baltic and North Atlantic traditions. The process by which the ships of the Portuguese and the Spanish evolved and adopted structural characteristics from both the northern and Mediterranean worlds is largely unknown to us, and to make things more complicated, a number of shipwrecks have been found with similar characteristics, but clearly originating from outside the Iberian Peninsula, such as the Cattewater, the Gresham, or the B&W 7 shipwrecks.

It is difficult to define what constructional features characterize an Iberian ship from the 16th and early 17th centuries. These sailing and inhabiting machines were the end result of a long process that entailed many decisions regarding their financing, conceptualization, construction and outfitting. Moreover, they were produced in a pre-industrial world and were all different at any given time. The standards within which they were conceived and built also changed in time. State built ships were among the most expensive and sophisticated artifacts constructed during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, and a drive for improvement seems to have been a constant incentive for change. The study of these amazing machines is an important chapter of the history of technology, and the study of the people that sailed them encompasses the most important and exciting problems of the history of science during the period under analysis.

Below is a list of known Iberian shipwrecks, some surveyed, others looted, others salvaged, and some excavated by archaeologists. The dates are approximated and in some cases “c. 1550” means only that the ship in question is believed to be a 16th century ship.

The Ships

New World Routes: 16th Century Shipwrecks

Molasses Reef Shipwreck, Bahamas (c. 1510)

Highborn Cay Shipwreck, Bahamas (c. 1520)

Bahia Mujeres Shipwreck, Mexico (c. 1550)

Playa Damas Shipwreck, Panama (c. 1530)

San Esteban, Texas (1554)

Espiritu Santo, Texas (1554)

Santa Maria de Yciar, Texas (1554)

La Condesa, Portugal (1555)

Emanuel Point Shipwreck, Florida (1559)

Pensacola Shipwreck, Florida (1559)

Saint John's Bahamas Shipwreck, Bahamas (c. 1550)

Mystery Wreck of MAREX, Bahamas (c. 1550)

Cayo Nuevo Shipwreck, Mexico (c. 1550)

Francisco Padre, Cuba (c. 1550)

La Galera, Cuba (c. 1550)

San Juan / Red Bay Shipwreck, Canda (1565)

San Pedro, Bermuda (1596)

Western Ledge Reef Shipwreck, Bermuda (c. 1600)

Spanish Wreck, Bermuda (c. 1600)

Ines de Soto Shipwreck, Cuba (c. 1600)

San Cayetano, Cuba (c. 1600)

Basque galleon 1, Canada (c. 1570)

Basque galleon 2, Canada (c. 1570)

Basque galleon 3, Canada (c. 1570)

Saona Site 1, Dominican Republic (c. 1550)

Saona Site 2, Dominican Republic (c. 1550)

Saona Site 3, Dominican Republic (c. 1550)

West Turtle Shoal, Florida (c. 1600)

Angra B, Azores (c. 1600)

Angra D, Azores (c. 1600)

New World Routes: 17th Century Shipwrecks

Fuxa Shipwreck, Cuba (c. 1610)

Green Cabin Shipwreck, Florida (c. 1620)

San Antonio, Bermuda (1621)

Nuestra Señora de Atocha, Florida (1622)

Shot Wreck, Florida (1622)

Santa Margarita, Florida (1622)

Dry Tortugas Shipwreck, Florida (1622)

Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Florida (1622)

Urca La Viga, Bermuda (1639)

Nuestra Señora de la Concepción,Dominican Republic (1641)

Stonewall Shipwreck, Bermuda (c. 1650)

Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, Bahamas (1656)

Jesús M.ª de la Limpia Concepción. Ecuador (1654)

Santíssimo Sacramento B, Brazil (1668)

San Francisco Wreck, Cape Verde (c. 1700)

Los Lingotes, Cuba (c. 1700)

Manila Galleons: 16th and 17th Century Shipwrecks

San Felipe, Baja California (1575)

San Diego, Philippines (1600)

Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, Guam (1638)

Santa Margarita, Guam ?

Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Guam (1690)

Some Current Research Groups

Group for the Study of Iberian Seafaring at Texas A&M University's Nautical Archaeology Program

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