Colonial Shipwrecks of Colombia: Exploring Sunken History in the Caribbean

A 1739 Spanish Map of Cartagena de Indias
Copyright: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Spain

National Geographic Grantee and Texas State University Research Faculty Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann and a top-notch team of archaeologists from Colombia and the United States are leading an expedition to locate and document historic shipwrecks off of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Follow along with Fritz’s updates from the field.

The Caribbean coast of Colombia is famous for being part of the Spanish trade route.  It was the call of gold and silver that led to conflict among natives, Spanish fleets, privateers, pirates, and foreign navies, leaving numerous shipwrecks along the coast and surrounding ports such as Cartagena de Indias, a crucial stop along the route.  While it is known that many shipwrecks exist, little has been done to document and study this underwater cultural heritage, leaving many areas unexplored.  This project will search for and document these sites using systematic electronic and diver surveys to locate potential shipwreck sites and add them to the national database of archaeological sites.  The data acquired during this project will provide some of the first insight into the underwater cultural heritage found in the waters surrounding two of Colombia’s most important Spanish colonial ports and the groups and individuals that made them successful.  The results will also inform the development of a management framework and a better understanding of the extent of the country’s cultural resources in the Caribbean.  Join me, Dr. Juan Guillermo Martin, and the rest of our team – including volunteers from the U.S. National Park Service Submerged Resources Center and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement – as we dive to discover and document shipwrecks in Colombia, sunken vestiges of our shared past.

Funding and support provided by a National Geographic Society-Waitt Grant, the Universidad del Norte, the Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, the Centro de Investigaciones Oceanográficas e Hidrográficas of the Dirección General Marítima, the Agencia Presidencial de Cooperación Internacional de ColombiaLa Tortuga Dive SchoolHalcyon Dive Systems, the Way Family Foundation, and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.

Changing Planet

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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.