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The Pepper Wreck: A Portuguese Indiaman at the Mouth of the Tagus River

Luis Filipe M. V. Castro
Dissertation: August 2001
Chair:  Dr. Kevin Crisman


In 1993, during a survey promoted by the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia and the non-profit association Arqueonáutica Centro de Estudos, under the direction of Dr. Francisco Alves, the remains of a ship were found in the mouth of the Tagus River, off the rocks of the fortress São Julião da Barra.   These remains have been tentatively identified as the Portuguese Indiaman Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, lost at this location on its return voyage from Cochin, in India, on September 14, 1606, with a cargo of pepper and other goods.

      The archaeological excavation disclosed an interesting collection of artifacts from the late 16th and the early 17th centuries and, most importantly, allowed for the study of the hull structure, making Nossa Senhora dos Mártires the first Portuguese nau ever to be studied by archaeologists. 

      An analysis of the dimensions and construction marks engraved on the frames by her shipwrights suggested that the ship was a standard Portuguese Indiaman of the late 16th century, as described by Fernando Oliveira in his treatise O Livro da Fábrica das Naus, written around 1580.  The Nossa Senhora dos Mártires is presumed to have been a ship with a keel of around 27.7 m and an overall length of nearly 40 m.

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