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The Nautical Archaeology of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is located on the northeast corner of the Caribbean Basin, around coordinates N 18° 15" and W 066° 30'.

The smallest of the Greater Antilles, archaeological evidence suggests that the island's first inhabitants arrived between the years 7,000 and 4,000 BCE. Spanish colonization of Puerto Rico began in 1509, under the direction of lieutenant Juan Ponce de León.

The strategic location of Puerto Rico was praised since the early 16th century by both friends and enemies of Spain. This project intends to study country's history through its shipwrecks.

San Juan, 2007 (Photo: Filipe Castro)

This project was possible through the generous support of Mr. Charles Consolvo and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, the Spain-USA Foundation, Dr. and Mrs. Peter Amaral, and CMAC. We whish to thank Dr. Kathleen Deagan as well for her precious help.


Rincón Shipwreck

Texas A&M University's Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation (CMAC) is preparing the excavation of the Rincón Shipwreck in cooperation with Puerto Rico's Instituto de Investigaciones Costaneras (IIC), the Consejo para la Conservación y Estudio de Sitios y Recursos Arqueológicos Subacuáticos, the University of Puerto Rico, and the Historic Preservation Office.


Consejo para la Conservación y Estudio de Sitios y Recursos Arqueológicos Subacuáticos

The cooperation with the Puerto Rican Consejo de Arqueologia Subacuática is paramount to the success of Texas A&M University long term project in this country, making it more inclusive and public, and merging the university's scientific interests with those of Puerto Rico's scientific community.

Instituto de Investigaciones Costaneras (I.I.C.)

One of the objectives of this project is to bring together all those interested in the study and protection of the Island's underwater cultural heritage by publishing relevant information.

The archaeologists of the Instituto de Investigaciones Costaneras have a long experience in the study of the country's submerged cultural heritage.

Mar Adentro No.1

Universidad de Puerto Rico

A number of cooperative projects are being study between members of the two universities and we expect to establish objectives and oportunities for joint cooperation.


Isla Verde Project

The coast between Loíza and San Juan harbors archaeological resources dating back to the pre-Columbian era and the historical evidence points to the presence of at least 66 shipwrecks in the area, from early in the colonization process during the 16th century up to the 19th century.

The objective of this project is the archaeological exploration of 22 kilometers along Puerto Rico's north coast, between the municipalities of Loíza and San Juan.

The proximity of San Juan and the coast's topography - characterized by zones of high energy, a reef line that runs from east to west and other navigation hazards - make this an area of high potential for the presence of shipwrecks.

Isla Verde 2 Shipwreck (Photo: Richard Fontanez)

One of the central concerns of this project is to raise the awareness of the general public to the importance of the underwater cultural heritage of the island and a website, a newsletter and a number of popular publications are already in the plans, together with the scholarly outcome.

Sponsored by Texas A&M University's Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation (CMAC) , the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, the Spain-USA Foundation, and the Instituto de Investigaciones Costaneras (IIC), the 2008 exploration campaign was part of a wider in-depth study of the maritime cultural contexts represented on this part of the island, and pretends to be the core of a long-term project, which will hopefully harbor yearly summer schools where students from as many as possible universities around the World will meet to learn and network.

The 2008 field season report is in press and will be published by the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.


Mona Island

Mona Island is located 42 miles west of Puerto Rico in a passage between this island and the Dominican Republic, at latitude N 18° 03' 8" and longitude W 067° 51' 57". Environmentally the island is surrounded by a narrow insular platform and deep waters. Evidence of human habitation is present from pre-Columbian times. During the early years of the European colonization of the New World, the Mona Passage became one of the most important maritime routes between the Old and New Worlds, with constant ship traffic. Its strategic position was also used by pirates as a hideout and place to lay in wait for potential prizes. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, about 64 known shipwrecks were recorded around the island. The great potential for underwater archaeological sites in this Natural Reserve was demonstrated in a study conducted by Richard Fontánez in 1999.

The project, which covered 7.5 kilometers of coast, yielded 4 shipwreck sites and 31 anchors from all periods of the New World's history. In the 21st century, the pressure of treasure hunting has not stopped to grow, given the technological advances made during the last few decades.

The impact of such an activity is detrimental to the cultural and natural resources of this reserve, since many of its archaeological sites double as artificial reefs. The growing interest in recreational diving around Mona, if not managed properly, will have a negative impact on its archaeological resources. Mona's archaeological register is rich, invaluable, and part of the historical patrimony of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and the World. Given its importance, the creation of an inventory of its archaeological and environmental resources is indispensable as a managerial tool to protect this irreplaceable cultural and environmental resource.


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Last Updated: 10/14/08