Changing Planet

The Monterrey Shipwreck: Two More Shipwrecks Discovered!

A shipwreck never before documented with a cargo of what appears to be tanned hides.
A second shipwreck never before documented with a cargo of what appears to be tanned hides.


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

Upon finishing our work on the Monterrey Shipwreck, we decided that we would explore the surrounding area as we knew from Shell Oil’s reports that there were other sonar targets that appeared to be shipwrecks within the near vicinity.  After recovering all of our equipment from the Monterrey Shipwreck site, we transited to another target nearby with high expectations of what we might find…and we were not disappointed!  The first target resulted in a shipwreck that has a cargo of what appears to be tanned hides, blocks of tallow, and a number of bottles and other material culture that appears quite similar in age and function to those of the Monterrey Shipwreck.  This vessel’s hull is not sheathed in copper and most of its wooden structure has decomposed to the sediment, yet a number of its frames and planks remain visible.  Also of great surprise were the remains of two masts, protruding through the wreckage.

A third shipwreck, another with copper sheathing, yields further questions as to the sinking of these ships.

Since our excavation permit only covered the Monterrey Shipwreck, we map, measure, and document this new shipwreck before checking one final sonar target.  That target continued to astound us, as we realized we were now the first people to lay eyes on two never-before-seen shipwrecks…and in one night!  The third shipwreck was the largest of the three, its wooden hull sheathed in copper, its large anchors at the ready, yet never deployed, and its contents and cargo a mystery.  As much as we would like to continue studying these wrecks, our time has come to an end on this project and we must begin our voyage back to Galveston, even more intrigued than we were before arrival.  Were the ships traveling in a convoy?  Was the Monterrey Shipwreck once a privateer, with the other two as prizes?  Through interpretation of the site, analysis of the artifacts, and archival research regarding shipwrecks in this area, we hope to be able to solve the mystery of what these ships were doing and why they wrecked.  In any event, it is an archaeologist’s dream to be the first ever to see a ship since the time that it wrecked and this project has more than fulfilled our team’s expectations!

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: Artifact Treatment

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.
  • Ima Ryma

    A cantaro, the hands made me
    From clay into ceramic jar,
    Percussuion instrument to be,
    Played by hands for sweet sounds that are.
    Hands took me on board a big ship,
    And touched me for my music joy.
    A fierce sea storm ended the trip.
    Destructive death did say, “Ahoy.”
    But I sank safely to my fate,
    But with no hands I could not play.
    Beneath the waters I did wait
    Till hands held me another day.

    Centuries later, I am found.
    Hands again make my music sound.

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