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An Analysis of Iron Goods Recovered from La Salle's Belle

Mark A. Feulner
Thesis: May 2002
Chair: Hamilton
Nautical Archaeology Program


In 1686, a French ship known as the Belle was anchored off of the Texas coast in Matagorda Bay when a storm struck. The vessel wrecked in that storm and sank into the shallow waters of the bay, taking with it a sizeable portion of the supplies and equipment of an attempt to establish a colony in North America. The wreck and its contents would lay largely undisturbed for more than three centuries.

During the summer of 1995, the Belle was relocated in Matagorda Bay by J. Barto Arnold, and subsequently identified. The historical and archaeological value of the wreck was readily recognized and a full excavation was undertaken by the Texas Historical Commission. Using a cofferdam to expose the site, the excavators recovered a sizeable collection of artifacts, including the remains of the hull, which were taken to the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University for treatment.

The artifacts recovered from the site represent a great wealth of cultural materials, notable not only for their wide variety, but for their vast quantities. A large number of these artifacts were goods intended for trade with the native populations. Among them were a number of cases and barrels containing a large quantity of straight knives, folding knives, and axe heads. The knives were badly corroded for the most part, and molds had to be cast from the encrustation surrounding them in order to recover any information about their features. The axes were found in a much better state, most of which were in excellent condition with their features intact.

The purpose of this thesis will be to document the iron axe heads and knives recovered from La Salle's Belle. A thorough study of their manufacture and characterisitics will serve to record these artifact collections and place them within their historical context. This work may also serve as a database for future comparative studies of late seventeenth-century iron tools.

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