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The Rhenish Stoneware from the Monte Cristi Shipwreck, Dominican Republic

Anne Wood Lessman
Thesis: December 1997
Chair: Hamilton

Discovered in 1966 off the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the Monte Cristi shipwreck represents the remains of an English-built ship carrying a Dutch cargo that sank in Spanish waters during the mid-17th century.  Despite heavy salvage of the site by sport divers and treasure hunters, significant features of the ship's construction and a substantial sample of the ship's cargo have survived.  This cargo was predominantly composed of several types of clay tobacco smoking pipes, although other diagnostic artifacts such as ceramics, trade goods, and luxury imports have also been preserved.  One artifact which has appeared consistently throughout the excavation of the wreck is a ceramic known as Rhenish stoneware, especially a type called Bartmannkruge which was produced and exported from the town of Frechen, near Cologne, during the 16th and 17th centuries.  No complete stoneware vessels have yet been found at Monte Cristi, but the mottled-brown salt-glazed fragments are characterized by applied Bartmann faces and body medallions typical of Rhenish stoneware from other 17th-century sites

Analyses of other artifacts from the Monte Cristi shipwreck have placed the date of the wreck between 1652 and 1656 and the likely destination of the ship to have been the northeastern seaboard of North America.  In testing these theories through a study of the Monte Cristi Rhenish stoneware, it has become apparent that the assemblage probably dates to the 1650s or earlier and has parallels at several sites in North America and on shipwreck sites around the world.  More valuable from an interpretive point of view is the actual size of the stoneware assemblage, which suggests that the Rhenish stoneware was a major element of the ship's cargo.  Since the Dutch were the primary transporters of Bartmannkruge in the 17th century, the stoneware's presence here is a strong indication that the ship was under Dutch ownership at the time it sank.

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