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SHA 2006 - Iberian Ships Session

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sponsored by:

Dr. Peter Amaral


Filipe Castro and Katie Custer, Edge of Empire, Lisbon: Caleidoscópio, 2008.

The study of the Iberian expansion of the 15th and 16th centuries has been the subject of perhaps thousands of books. However, their ships are almost completely unknown to us. There are no complete written descriptions of these vessels, the iconographical evidence is scarce and not always reliable, and most of the archaeological evidence has been systematically destroyed since the 1950s by the treasure hunting industry.

In cooperation with the Secção Autónoma de Engenharia Naval (SAEN) of Lisbon's Instituto Superior Técnico, a team from the Ship Reconstruction Laboratory (ShipLab), in the Nautical Archaeology Program (NAP) at Texas A&M University, is trying to build a comprehensive image of these ships, the way they evolved in time, and the environment in which they were designed and built. With a number of thesis and dissertations currently in progress we have build a strong research group and want to present this collective project in a panel or special session at the 2006 meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA).





Filipe Castro


Positioned between the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic and Baltic maritime worlds, the Iberian Peninsula developed a rich and diverse collection of watercraft, each type suited for its intended purpose, resulting from the natural resources available, the existing trade network in what pertained to imports of shipbuilding materials, and the foreign influences of the cultures to which its people was in contact at any particular time. These two sessions are a contribution to our undersatnding of the seafaring of this region, which launched the European maritime expansion of the 15th and 16th centuries.



George Schwarz

Portuguese Caravels

This paper is directed at obtaining a comprehensive view of the caravel, an Iberian ship of discovery. Currently, there are no known extant remains of this type of vessel. The information that exists in scholarly texts touches only briefly on the structural characteristics and shipbuilding methods used to construct this exploratory vessel. For this reason, researchers must look to secondary sources, including historical references, similarly built ships from the archaeological record, iconographic representations, ancient shipbuilding treatises, and ethnographic parallels to comparable boatbuilding techniques of today. By examining these various lines of evidence, scholars of Iberian seafaring are able to better understand many features of this exploratory vessel. This data, otherwise scattered and disorganized, can be analyzed and evaluated to ultimately create a more complete and accurate description of the famed caravel.



Katie Custer

Portuguese Ship Iconography in the 16th Century

The Age of Discovery is widely known for the voyages of exploration by Spain and Portugal that forever changed world history. The caravel and nao, as the main technological impetus of these voyages, are studied as they appear in historical documents. However, little is known about them beyond the purported ideal sailing attributes as described by explorers and sailors. The doctoral research into the iconographic evidence of caravels and naos starts where the written record leaves off. This new research examines the pictorial record of these ships and intends to introduce information regarding ship construction and rigging details.



Alex Hazlett

The Nao of the Livro Nautico, the textual excavation of a 16th century Portuguese Indiaman

Documents and illustrations show that the premier ship in Portugal's India trade during the 16th century was the Nao, a beamy, three-masted carrack. For decades these vessels carried passengers and cargo between Portugal and Asia. Despite the number of vessels involved, relatively little archaeological evidence of these ships exists.

While 16th century shipbuilding documents predate the development of ships plans, they include theoretical treatises and scantling lists. From these documents it is possible to reconstruct the construction of a nau timber by timber, using the mathematical relations and formulas used by the Portuguese shipwrights in conjunction with the timber specifications of one of these scantling lists. Iconography and early 17th century documents which do include lines and images may be used to check the reconstruction.



Erika Laanela

"The Fabrication and Management of Vessels by Means so Artful and Useful": The Ships of the García de Palacio Treatise of 1587

Often cited as the earliest printed treatise on ship construction, Instrucción nautica para navegar was published by Diego García de Palacio in Mexico in 1587, reflecting the importance of seafaring for Spain's colonies. The didactic style and an early nautical glossary suggest the document was intended for non-specialists. The text describes navigational techniques, ship proportions, rigging, stores, crew, and naval tactics. Woodcuts depict the dimensions of two ships in an early attempt to illustrate a complex empirical system of hull design. This paper presents reconstructions of the vessels using comparative archaeological, documentary, and pictorial data, and analyzes the document's significance.



Blanca Rodriguez

The Spanish Navy and the Ordenanzas of 1607, 1613 and 1618

During the first two decades of the seventeenth century king Felipe III (1598-1621) of Spain and Portugal launched an effort to standardize all shipbuilding in the Iberian Peninsula. Triggered by the necessities of the formation of a modern state and mandated by the demands of the crown's extensive empire, these efforts of standardization constitute an important collection of information about the shipbuilding practices of that period. This paper will analyze the content of the three sets of laws, issued in 1607, 1613 and 1618, in the context of the history of seafaring in the Iberian Peninsula of that period.



Filipe Castro, Nuno Fonseca & Tiago Santos

Filipe Castro

Nuno Fonseca

Sailing an early 17th Century Portuguese Indiaman

Discovered in 1993 at the mouth of the Tagus River, the SJB2 shipwreck - or Pepper Wreck - was tentatively identified as the Portuguese Indiaman Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, lost in this place on its return voyage from Cochin, in India, on September 14, 1606. Its archaeological excavation led to a tentative reconstruction of the hull, based on contemporary texts on shipbuilding. Further analysis of these texts allowed a reconstruction of the riggingthat will be the basis for a number of experimental tests to evaluate the intact floatability, stability, and sailing capabilities of these ships.



Tiago Fraga

Reconstructing a 17th Century Portuguese Frigate: the Mombassa Wreck

Santo Antonio de Tanná, a seventeenth-century Portuguese frigate, is the perfect example of how collaboration between land archaeology, history and nautical archaeology can produce results to answer several questions on the history of Portuguese Seafaring. Its story was played in Mombassa, in today's Kenya, where the frigate was lost in October, 20, 1697.
This presentation intends to expand on the Santo Antonio de Tanná story, and present its reconstruction. Which was done as part of a thesis presented to Texas A&M University Nautical Archaeology Program and is one of the first to use computer reconstruction techniques.



Pearce Creasman

Forests and Ships in the Iberian Peninsula during the Age of Expansion

The 15th and 16th centuries were crucial to the economic, political and social development of the world, in large part due to exploration and expansion from the Iberian Peninsula. The primary vessels of the expansion were ships. Without the resources to build and maintain the naus, caravels and other ships the world would certainly have developed differently, perhaps drastically. This paper explores the methods that were employed in the Iberian Peninsula to manage, exploit and process the forests- the most valuable resource of the Age of Expansion.



Gustavo Garcia

Gustavo 2002

Nautical Astrolabes

During the fifteenth century, Portuguese seafarers began to depart from the traditional navigation technique known as dead reckoning to adopt new systems more suited for their increasingly far reaching explorations along the West African Coast.  At stake was the Portuguese crown’s desire of finding the much coveted route to India by sailing along Africa ’s south coast.  For decades, the genius of the Portuguese court was devoted to finding solutions to the problems confronting the navigators in their attempts to attain this goal. 

The most valuable achievement resulting from this effort was a new method of navigation that consisted of measuring the angle of certain heavenly bodies above the horizon in order to determine the latitude of the observer with reasonable precision.  For this purpose, some instruments that traditionally belonged to the field of astronomy were adopted and adapted to be used by seamen.  Among them was the astrolabe, which became the most popular by the turn of the sixteenth century. 

This work builds up on a tradition of research on the sea or mariner’s astrolabe that began in Portugal in the early twentieth century.  This is not a work about ships, but about the instruments and methods used by their pilots in their attempt to, sometimes more successfully than others, navigate them safely and efficiently across the ocean sea.



Brad Coombes

Spanish Shipbuilding in the 18th Century - The Album of the Marquez de la Victoria

The Century of Light or Age of Enlightenment begins for Spain with the death of the last of the Habsburg rulers Carlos II and the ascension of Phillip V and the Bourbon line. Phillip's rise to power triggers the War of Spanish Succession, the first of several wars fought by Spain during the 18th century to solidify the Bourbon line and maintain the Empire's vast holdings around the world.
The rule of the Habsburgs had reduced Spain's once dominant Navy to a shadow of its former glory and strength but the need to protect the Spanish trade routes to the New World and the Indias and the progressive leadership of the Bourbon kings marked a new era of naval construction theory and technology. Driven by the philosophy of Mercantilism the Bourbon line encouraged the creation and assimilation of new and progressive naval architectural designs. Numerous theorists, mariners and shipbuilders were the foundation for the resurgence of Spain's naval power.

Tinajero de la Escalera would become Spain's first highly qualified and able naval administrator. Admiral Antonio Gaztaneta y de Iturribalzagan, a seagoing naval officer, administrator and naval architect would vastly shape Spain's new Navy in the next fifty years.

These men and the Bourbon kings laid the foundation for the emergence of Juan Jose Navarro de Viana y Bufalo, El Marques de la Victoria. This presentation centers on the Marques' masterwork treatise, that took 37 years to complete, illustrating the growth of the Spanish Navy, Diccionario demonstrativo con la configuracion y anatomia de toda la arquitectura naval moderna.



Carlos Monroy

Design of a Computer based Frame to Store, Manage and Divulge Information from Underwater Archaeological Excavations: the Pepper Wreck Case

As new scientific tools are developed to analyze archaeological data and new research questions are asked about past civilizations, the information collected in archaeological excavations, sometimes many decades ago, becomes increasingly relevant. Many archaeological excavations were never published and much of the data collected during decades of fieldwork have been lost forever or were partially lost, the context of the whole information being damaged forever.

The main objective of this project is to design a framework that enables the researchers to:
a) efficiently catalog, store, and manage artifacts and ship remains along with its associated data and information produced by an underwater archeological excavation,
b) integrate heterogeneous data sources from different media to facilitate Nautical Archeology research work,
c) manage ancient shipbuilding treatises to help in the study and reconstruction of sunken ships,
d) develop visualization tools to help researchers manipulate, observe, study, and analyze artifacts and ship remains and their relationships, and
e) make the findings and information acquired available over the internet to other scholars, excavating their own projects in the field or researching related subjects, as well as to the general public, given the invaluable source of information - raw and processed - generated by our proposed framework.



Discussants: Drs. Brad Lowen and Roger Smith


This Symposium would have not been possible without the generous support of Dr. Peter Amaral and the Luso-American Foundation. We whish to thank the kind support of Dr. Peter Amaral, for his support of the Nautical Archaeology Program and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and Dr. Luís dos Santos Ferro, for his technical support and guidance in the process of obtaining the FLAD grant.

The organizer and the students of the Nautical Archaeology Program are especially grateful to Dr. Peter Amaral and the Luso-American Foundation, without whose support this symposium would have never been possible, given the high costs involved in its organization.



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