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Spanish Olive Jars - Type 4

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Artifact Description

The excavation of the “Tortugas” yielded 86 intact botijas or olive jars as well 123 individual rims along with 3,503 sherds. The ship was thus transporting a minimum of 209 olive jars that were relatively evenly distributed across the site. The descriptive term ‘olive jar’ is a misnomer because these vessels were packaged with a wide variety of liquid and solid foodstuffs; However, ‘olive jar’ has become a generic name for this ceramic form today.

The quantity of botijas on the “Tortugas” wreck is relatively limited which suggests it is unlikely that they served as cargo. Colonial Spain pursued an unwavering policy of stocking all ships with sufficient supplies for entire round-trip journeys to the Americas and home. Eight months of food and four months of water were loaded in Seville, typically sufficient surplus to mitigate against unexpected bad weather. Ships often returned with surplus foods, although stocks were commonly replenished at Havana. Olive jars of all sizes were used for storing a multitude of foodstuffs: wine, oil, vinegar, honey, as well as solids such as rice, almonds, hazelnuts, raisins, capers and olives. Although recovered from the ROV’s SeRF system, and not from jar interiors, it is likely that many of the seeds and pits from almonds, plums, peaches, olives, hazelnut and grape from the "Tortugas" shipwreck were originally botija contents.

The interior lining of a few sherds was coated with a chalky red stain, which has been interpreted by visual observation alone possibly as red ocher, a product listed amongst ships provisions for carpenters. Alternatively, it may constitute cochineal listed as cargo on ships returning to Europe from the Indies.

During the ship’s descent to the sea bottom, or soon after deposition, the pressure exerted on the olive jars forced their cork seals to implode inwards: intact and fragmentary corks were found preserved inside some vessels. Intact examples were tapered and measured 5.1-5.85cm on the upper plane, 4.51-5.08cm on the lower plane and were 1.55-2.29cm thick.

The majority of the “Tortugas” olive jars adhere to the generic Middle Style A form (“Tortugas” Type 1). The collection also includes seven small globular jars defined as Middle Style B form (“Tortugas” Type 2), as well as two small carrot-shaped jars classified as Middle Style C (“Tortugas” Type 3). Two intact flat-bottomed large vessels are also represented within the assemblage ("Tortugas" Type 4).

The “Tortugas” Type 4 olive jars, representing 2.3% of the total assemblage, are anatomically similar to the neck and body shape of "Tortugas" Type 1, but clearly differentiated by an everted neck and short, slender rim. The shoulder is bulbous before assuming a vertical profile along the lower third of the vessel and terminating at a flat base. Type 4 is covered with closely aligned body ribbing. Functionally its slender rim and neck and flat base make this vessel perhaps better suited to use as kitchen or galley ware, rather than as an archetypal transport jar. H. 43.5cm, Diam. 31.2cm, circumference 99.6cm, rim H. 2.1cm, rim Diam. 11.9cm, volume 20.8 liters, weight 6.4kg, reddish yellow (7.5YR 8/6). ICPS analysis suggests that Tortugas Type 4 botijas derived from Seville.


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