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Columbia Plain Dishes and Bowls

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Artifact Description

The “Tortugas” shipwreck ceramic assemblage contains a major collection of 2,304 kitchen and tableware rims, handles, bases and sherds, the most extensive associated with the 1622 Tierre Firma fleet scientifically excavated to date. These derive from 22 types of pottery forms (1,390 tin-glazed maiolica sherds, 84 blue-painted tablewares, 279 South American colonoware kitchen vessels, 218 unglazed coarse redwares and 333 glazed coarse redwares). Other than the South American colonoware cooking pots and pans, a San Juan polychrome maiolica juglet, one Columbia Plain bowl sub-form of possible New World origin, and one Portuguese jug, these products are currently all identified as being of Spanish origin centered on Seville.

Due to the thick and heavy nature of their production, the seven Columbia Plain platos dishes (Diam. 19.5-19.8cm, rim Th. 0.9-1.1cm; Fig. 15) and three escudilla bowls (H. 5.9-6.2cm, Diam. 13.0cm, rim Th. 0.65-0.7cm) proved to be the best preserved vessel form on the Tortugas shipwreck, even though they account for just 6.5% of the site’s tablewares. This is one of the few categories of Spanish colonial pottery whose origin in Seville is archaeologically verifiable. A workshop and kiln excavated in the famous potters quarter of Triana in Seville is also a likely origin for part of the “Tortugas” ship’s Blue-on-Blue Seville maiolica. A group of intact Columbia Plain plates have allegedly been recovered from a well in Seville.

In addition to the conspicuous presence of Columbia Plain dishes on the Atocha, four decades earlier the ceramic component of tablewares recorded on the Spanish Armada shipwreck La Trinidad Valencera off Ireland was largely unchanged morphologically. In general, the distribution of this ceramic form closely follows the routes of the Seville-based flotas and has been hypothesized to be cheap, standardized ‘official issue’ of the Casa de Contratacíon. The favored use of sturdy Columbia Plain dishes and bowls on fleet ships is further exemplified by the Emanuel Point I wreck from the flota of Tristán de Luna, which was lost during a hurricane in 1559 during the first European attempt to colonize Florida and by its frequency as the most common tableware on the St. John’s wreck sunk off the Little Bahama Bank soon after 1554. The earliest Columbia Plain maiolica found in the New World are examples from the late 15th-century colony of La Isabela (Dominican Republic) established by Christopher Columbus. Columbia plain wares were also discovered at 16th-century Puerto Real (Haiti).


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