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The Artifact Assemblage From the Pepper Wreck: An Early Seventeenth Century Portuguese East-Indiaman That Wrecked in the Tagus River

Sara R. Brigadier  
Thesis: December 2002
Chair: Crisman

Almost four hundred years after the wrecking of the Portuguese East-Indiaman Nossa Senhora dos Mártires in 1606, excavations were begun at São Julião de Barra by the Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica e Subaquática (CNANS). The 1996-1998 field seasons yielded thousands of individual artifacts from the wreck that is almost certainly Mártires, today known as the Pepper Wreck. These items represent the remains of one of the fist archaeologically excavated Portuguese East Indiamen to date. Even after an immediate contemporary salvage effort and four hundred years in a heavy surge zone, the remains of the Pepper Wreck are extensive in their size (large portions of the ship’s hull survived) and variety. The range of artifacts recovered includes some of the ship’s navigational instruments, Asian trade goods such as pepper and porcelain dishes, and personal items. Other materials recovered include everything from modern signage and trash to hundreds of ceramic sherds and balls of lead shot. The collection was found in varying states of preservation, from pristine to unrecognizable, depending on the amount of protection received on the site.


This thesis will focus on the artifacts that were originally carried aboard the Pepper Wreck. The area containing the wreck site is in a location that has been the site of numerous shipwrecks from all time periods. Subsequently, all manner of objects were collected from the bottom during the CNANS excavation. Therefore, the main portion of the thesis will only focus on artifacts that can be linked with the Pepper Wreck. This thesis contains a broad historical background of the trade routes traversed by the Portuguese, along with more specific historical and practical research concerning the particular artifacts themselves. These artifacts will be grouped into the following categories: navigational instruments, porcelains, pewter ware, and a miscellaneous category (for items ranging from Asian stonewares to a Japanese sword guard or tsuba). This thesis will strive to place this mix of trade and personal goods into the historical context of the Portuguese Empire at the turn of the seventeenth century.

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