The ships of the Portuguese and Spanish were perhaps the best of their time,
the most sophisticated machines built in Europe, and the artifacts without which it is difficult to imagine the
history of the New World.
And yet we have no theories on how they were created, nor on how they have
evolved, filling in new niches, adapting to the requirements of new maritime routes, new cargoes, or new functions,
adopting features from other ships, dropping features that ceased to be useful, or perceived as such.
We also lack theories to try to explain the evolution of these ships against
the social, economical, and political background in which they were thought, conceived, built, and operated, in
a fast changing world that witnessed the rise of the modern, centralized state in Europe.
Most Iberian shipwrecks have been savaged by treasure hunters in search of
artifacts with market value and short term profit.
Their study is an exciting endeavor, and here at Texas A&M University we
are gathering, analyzing, and classifying all the information we can find about them (see NADL Project).
Iberian Ships Bibliography
Most ships built in the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries have been
destroyed by looters and treasure hunters.
It is believed that these were the best and most sophisticated ships of their times, but
we know so few about them that we are not even sure whether there were any substantial differences between Spanish
and Portuguese ships, and those of their enemies and friends.
This project's objective is to inventory and keeping a record of the ships found for which
there is any written information.
Early 16th nau (master from Lourinhã)
Often times looters and treasure hunters destroy these ships without ever letting a single
word about them transpire, and many archaeologists never publish the results of their excavations.
This project is therefore opened to anybody interested. All information that may help us
keep information as complete and accurate as possible is welcome.
Iberian Ships Project
This project was created
in 2004 within the ShipLab to study the ships built in the Iberian Peninsula during the period of the European
expansion, in the 15th through 17th centuries.
Its mission is the study and divulgation of the evolution of ocean going Iberian ships in
comparison with the contemporary ships of other European nations.
Preliminary results and research questions have been presented at the 2006 Society for Historical
Archaeology Annual Meeting, which took place in Sacramento, on the 15th
of January. The symposium was titled "Edge of Empire."
The communications presented at this symposium were published in a book edited
by Filipe Castro and Katie Custer.
This project is a continuation of the work started by the Institute of Nautical
Archaeology in the late 1970s, with the excavation of the Portuguese frigate Santo
António de Taná in Mombasa, Kenya, under the direction
of Robin Piercy and Jeremy Green.
Research on Iberian seafaring was continued by INA Explorers' Team EXPLADISC,
whose work in the 1980s and early 1990s set the foundations for the study of Iberian seafaring and shipbuilding
from the archaeological viewpoint.
This is a long term project that will hopefelly include the cooperation of scholars from
many different disciplines. Since 2005 the ShipLab has been working with Secção Autónoma de
Engenharia Naval of Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon, Portugal.
In 2007 the Group grew again to encompass scholars from another three institutions:
the Centro de História da Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa, the Centro de Estudos do Mar da
Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, and the Direcção de Projecto Ciência e Descobrimentos
/ Câmara Municipal de Lagos.
The pioneers - From left to right: Donald H. Keith, Denise Lakey, Joe Simmons, Mark Meyers, Bill
Lamb, Roni Polk, Harding Polk, Tom Oertling, Roger C. Smith, and KC Smith. See: INA Newsletter 13.1, from March 1986 - "Rediscovering
Ships of Discovery", and see also: Ships of Discovery.
Some of their followers - From left to right: Carlos Monroy, Pearce Creasman,
Blanca Rodriguez, Alex Hazlett, George Schwarz, Tiago Fraga, Filipe Castro, Brad Coombes, Katie Custer, and Erika
Laanela. Gustavo Garcia is not in this picture, but his important contribution must be acknowledged.