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Artifacts

The “Tortugas” collection of nearly 17,000 artifacts is highly diverse, including pearls, ceramics, ballast, lead musket, silver coins, seeds, beads, glassware, gold bars and bits. Many of these assemblages compare closely to the material culture of contemporary colonial-era sites excavated on land and underwater, including two other ships lost in the same 1622 Tierra Firme fleet.

While the volume of artifacts recovered from the “Tortugas” shipwreck illuminates the ship’s colorful character, equally fascinating are some of the more unusual finds. A one-handle Portuguese jug is an anomaly amongst the otherwise Seville focused ceramic tablewares. How exactly the single recovered agate bead from India ended up on the “Tortugas” wreck is also intriguing. Did the owner of this gem carry it along with the high-status ivory sundial manufactured in Nuremberg, which was functionally useless so far from the West? Another question may be asked about the three astrolabes aboard the “Tortugas” ship which are perhaps unexpectedly numerous for such a small merchant vessel.

Of particular importance is the inter-relationship between valuable commodities (gold bars, silver coins, pearls), low-value goods (trade beads) and the domestic assemblage (extensive ceramic tablewares, olive jars, tortoise shell combs, glass bottles, drop spindles, a sundial, and faunal remains).  The artifacts combined make the “Tortugas” site an important index of colonial trade with the Americas early in the reign of King Philip IV and towards the end of Spain’s Golden Age.