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Cargo

The outbound cargo aboard the “Tortugas” shipwreck comprised an eclectic diversity of goods including European products such as glass, incised ceramic and cut crystal beads intended for trade with the native peoples of the New World.  Beads were already deemed essential for gifts and exchange when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492, and continued to serve an important role throughout the conquest and settlement of the Americas.  Added to the bead cargo were palm nuts seemingly indigenous to the Caribbean and Central and South America – products which were likely intended for use in rosaries both in Spain and the New World.  

On its homeward journey the “Tortugas” ship transported well over 6,000 pearls acquired in eastern Venezuela (Cumana), one of the major ports where the vessel was known to have sailed. Although historical sources decried the severe depletion of the Pearl Coast’s oyster beds in the second half of the 17th century, the archaeology of the “Tortugas” ship demonstrates that profitable stocks could still be secured, especially if the pearls were shipped as contraband, as the evidence implies was the case aboard this vessel.