The Monterrey Shipwreck: Artifacts Discovered

Book uncovered on the Monterrey Shipwreck
Book uncovered on the Monterrey Shipwreck

National Geographic Grantee and Texas State University Research Faculty Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann and a team of leading archaeologists are conducting an expedition to the Monterrey Shipwreck in order to carry out the deepest archaeological shipwreck excavation ever in North America. Follow along with Fritz’s updates from the field.

 By Fritz Hanselmann

Once we have a sample of the artifacts in hand, we send the elevator back down for another lift with the ROV Hercules continuing to work 4,300 feet below us.  Through careful study and analysis of the artifacts excavated, not only do we learn more about the ship itself, but we are able to understand more about the crew, their activities and the bigger picture of maritime activity in the Gulf of Mexico region.  For example, two of the artifacts that we recovered were intact bottles possibly filled with ginger, which would have been used to treat seasickness at the time, just one example of the the interconnection between the objects and the human nature of those who used them so long ago.  I can imagine sailing these waters in a much smaller vessel then we are now and having the need to ingest the ginger to quell the nausea and wooziness that accompany seasickness.  In addition to the bottles with organic contents, we recovered an octant, liquor bottles, a ceramic jar called a “cantaro” used in the Yucatan, possible Spanish majolica, a decanter, a demijohn, and other miscellaneous ceramics and bottles, and we are also developing a strategy to recover some of the muskets and swords.  We continued to document the wreck and found an area that holds medicinal objects, including a syringe.  Amazingly, we also found a woolen jacket near the starboard side of the stern and a book that had been buried in the sediment near the ship’s pump.  In some cases, the fragility of the artifacts dictate that they be preserved in situ, or on site.  As much as we would like to see the book and attempt its recovery, we reluctantly back Hercules away from it and zoom the camera in to gaze on it in wonder for a few more moments.  This site has such an amazing rate of preservation that these artifacts are in astoundingly wonderful condition and they truly provide a physical connection with our shared past.

Funding provided by foundations and individual donors through the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment and the Office of Advancement at Texas State University, the Way Family Foundation, and the Harte Family Foundation. 

NEXT: More Artifacts Recovered


Frederick "Fritz" Hanselmann is Research Faculty, who serves as the Chief Underwater Archaeologist and Diving Program Director with the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. He is also the director of The Meadows Center's Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Initiative. Fritz learned how to swim at age three, and has been in love with the water ever since, having been taught to breath hold dive by his grandfather diving for golf balls tied in a sock in the Gulf of Mexico. Having worked on underwater sites from a wide variety of time periods, his research ranges from submerged prehistoric deposits in springs and caves to historic shipwrecks in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the wreck of the Quedagh Merchant, abandoned by Captain Kidd in 1699 off the coast of Hispaniola. Fritz led the first-ever archaeological survey of the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama as the initial phase of the ongoing Río Chagres Maritime Landscape Study. One aspect of this study is the Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project, the search for the famous privateer's sunken ships. He is one of the Principal Investigators of the Monterrey Shipwreck Project in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the deepest shipwreck excavation ever conducted in North America, in collaboration with three federal agencies, three universities, and three non-profit organizations. Fritz is also the co-director of the Sunken Ships of Colombia project, which focuses on finding, documenting, studying, and managing historic shipwrecks along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The Spring Lake Underwater Archaeology Project on the university's campus also falls under his supervision and he assists other projects in Mexico and Texas as part of the Initiative. Fritz also focuses on capacity building and training for archaeologists and heritage managers in less developed countries, as well as the development of marine protected areas and underwater preserves. He is a GUE Cave and Technical Diver, a Nautical Archaeology Society Tutor, a certified scuba instructor, an ambassador for Aquadive Watches, and a fellow of the Explorer’s Club. Fritz regularly gives public lectures and presentations for museums, universities, and other organizations.

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