Playa Damas Shipwreck Project

The Institure of Nautical Archaeology (INA) proposed that a protocol of cooperation be signed by the government of Panama and INA, following the terms INA arranged with the Jamaican government, which governed the 10 years of archaeological work in Port Royal. INA will fully excavate the shipwreck, conserve and study the artifacts, and publish the shipwreck both in scholarly journals and popular magazines. The artifacts and records will remain the property of the Panamanian government.

Fig. 6 - Playa Damas (Photo: Jim Jobling)

The Spiegel group has published two articles in Der Spiegel magazine (14Jun04 and 21Jun04), produced a documentary (Spiegel-TV) that was broadcasted in all European countries on June 19th 2004 at Arte-TV, and a magnificent book: Die letzte Reise, Der Fall Christoph Columbus, by Klaus Brinkbaumer and Clemens Hoeges.

Fig. 7 - Spiegel-TV interviewing Dr. Donny Hamilton

In order to get the project moving, it was thought best to start the treatment of the artifact collection in the USA, at the Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL), of the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University. There are enormous difficulties posed by the treatment of the large concretions containing a formidable gun collection, and they can be processed more effectively and quickly in Texas. For instance, the X-ray machine necessary to X-ray the large concretions alone costs almost half a million dollars. This would allow us to start the conservation immediately and give us the opportunity to start on the conservation of the more diagnostic artifacts prior to the start of the excavation.
The advantages of this solution are nevertheless relevant for Panama because it was agreed to create grants to bring Latin American students to Texas A&M University, to study conservation, and start a sustainable program of conserving waterlogged artifacts in Panama. In the future, after training in Texas, Panamanian staff could then establish a laboratory in Panama. Excavation should not start until functioning conservation facilities are installed. Thus, the CRL solution would allow us to start the excavation immediately and get considerable information that will be helpful in interpreting and excavating the site.
The advantages of this cooperation between INAC, INA and Spiegel group are considerable. All the material gets conserved and the visibility provided by the Spiegel magazine and television coverage is estimated to be the equivalent of many millions of dollars in publicity for Panama.
INA is currently waiting for a INAC's permit to start the project. There are however a number of legal problems to overcome, since other institutions - namely a treasure hunting company - have conflicting claims upon the site and have expressed their intention to salvage the shipwreck and sell the artifacts.

Citation information:

Filipe Castro, 2004, Playa Damas Project: Playa Damas Shipwreck Project, World Wide Web, URL,

Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University.