Wreck of Spice Trade Merchantman Found off Lisbon

By The Maritime Executive 09-25-2018 01:19:19

A Portuguese merchantman dating back to the 1600s has been found off the coast of Cascais, Portugal, in what marine archaeologists described as the "discovery of a decade." The wreck site is littered with valuable wares from the spice trade, including 16th century Chinese porcelain; cowry shells; the remains of spices, including pepper; and the ship's bronze cannons, which bear Portugal's royal seal. The wreck also contained cowrie shells, which were harvested in the Indies and used as a currency in West African trades. 

Given its cargo, the vessel was probably returning to Lisbon from India at the time of its sinking. The Chinese ceramics date from the late Ming Dynasty, and they provide a very specific date range for the ship's final voyage: the team says that the pottery was produced sometime between 1573 and 1619. 

The vessel was found on September 4 during exploration related to dreging operations for the mouth of the Tagus River, which passes through Cascais. The area is known for its concentration of shipwrecks, and a joint team from Lisbon's Nova University, the Portuguese government and the Porguguese navy conducted a survey of the area. The ship lies in just 40 feet of water. 

"From a conservation perspective, both of the assets as of the ship itself, this discovery is of great patrimonial value," said project leader Jorge Freire.

The project team will continue its work to identify the vessel. 

Portugal was the first European nation to establish a direct, seagoing trade with India, and it dominated the spice trade through most of the 1500s. Spanish, English, Dutch and French competition followed in successive waves of exploration and colonization.