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Very few Portuguese Indiamen have been found around the world. To be true, not that many have been lost to start with. From an estimated total of about 220 India naus lost in the India Route over a period of 150 years, the majority may have been beached and their cargoes recovered afterwards. Many may have been burned to salvage the expensive iron fastenings.

Only a few have been found, and all, with the exception of the Pepper Wreck, either looted or salvaged by treasure hunters. This makes the small portion of the Pepper Wreck hull a precious archaeological site.

Excavated between 1996 and 2000, this small portion of the ship's bottom was recorded as best as possible. A few timbers were raised and are deposited in tanks in the former Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica e Subaquática, in Lisbon. The remaining timbers were wrapped in textile and buried under several layers of sand bags.

These ships are as interesting as they are unknown to us. For this reason, the research on the Pepper Wreck has continued uninterrupted since 1996 and has originated a number of other projects, designed to address the questions that stemmed from a first 2001 reconstruction of the hull.

Several virtual models have been constructed to test many different sorts of questions, related to the plausibility of my reconstruction: Did it float? Did it stay upright? Did it sail? What speeds could it reach under different weather conditions? What angles could it withstand sailing upwind? How was the sail plan? How was the standing and running rigging of such a vessel? How strong were these hulls, considering the scarcity of timber and the small size of the components of the Pepper Wreck hull? How were these ships conceived? How were they built? What sort of control was possible over the final product in relation with the original idea? Did they carry 450 people? How? Where and how did they live? Where, when and how did they cook? Did they bring back from India 250 tons of peppercorns on average? Where and how? How were the cargo and victuals stored?

The Pepper Wreck 1996-98 field season (photos: Filipe Castro, Francisco Alves, and Augusto Salgado).

The list of questions is long. Moreover, many answers raise new questions, making this research a lot of fun in a kind of a fractal way.

This webpage is intended as an introduction to this topic. I believe that without a wide public interest we will never learn anything about the Portuguese Indiamen of the 16th and early 17th centuries.

Project Index

Short Story of the Site

1999 Field Season

2000 Field Season

Hull Timbers

Timber Species

Hull Reconstruction

Shipwrecks at the Tagus Mouth










Lead weights


Nested weights


Exotic Wood

Site Map (Filipe Castro, 2001)

The three astrolabes found at the SJB2 site: São Julião da Barra I, São Julião da Barra II, and São Julião da Barra III.

Hull Remains

The data suggest that this ship had a keel 27.72m (18 rumos) long, a flat amidships of 4.11m (16 palmos de goa), a beam around 12m, a depth in hold around 9 m, and 39 pre-designed and pre-assembled frames.

A proposed reconstruction is presented in the book The Pepper Wreck, and the development of this project can be seen in other sections of this website.


The project director wishes to thank the Instituto Português de Arqueologia and its Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica e Subaquática, the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, the Portuguese Navy, the Clube Naval de Paço d'Arcos, and the company Marcascais for the support granted to this project in the period 1996 - 2000.

Hull Plan - Frames

Hull Plan - Planking

The Pepper Wreck at Lisbon's Museu de Marinha:

Museu de Marinha

Pepper Wreck Window

Museu de Marinha



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Last Updated: 10/14/08