Colonial Shipwrecks of Colombia: Looking to the Future

Four anchors at the Tortuga Shipwreck Site
Credit: Fritz Hanselmann/The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University

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. 

Now that we’re back in Cartagena, breaking our gear down and prepping for departure, one might ask as to the future of the two projects, the Sunken Ships of Cartagena and the Bahía de la Gloria Survey.  Even as we depart, we have already begun work on our field reports for these projects.  That is the part of archaeology that is often times overlooked: everything is documented, written up, and submitted to the permit-granting agency, which in this case is the  Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia (ICANH).  We are also making plans to return for a much longer field season in 2014 and our partners in the project will continue to move forward even in our absence.  The Colombian Navy’s Centro de Investigaciones Oceanográficas e Hidrográficas will conduct more in depth bathymetric survey of the bay, using a sidescan sonar, to expand our mapping of the wreck site in the bay and to also locate other potential sites.

It goes without saying that the sites that we have dove on, documented, studied, and mapped belong to Colombia.  For while they are part of a global heritage, they belong to the Colombian people.  The sites that we know of and the sites that we will continue to find  all deserve protection and proper management in order to be preserved for future generations.  Inasmuch, all of the sites will be added to the national database run by ICANH and monitoring procedures will be put into place in order to ensure the sites are preserved.  As a long-term part of the project, we are making plans to accomplish even more in the future.  Various initiatives include the creation of a system of marine protected areas around the sites in order to sustainably preserve not only the cultural resources, but the biological resources that make these shipwrecks their habitat.  Training and workshops in scientific diving, underwater archaeology techniques, and management will play an integral role as this work blossoms even more.  Finally, we have just exposed the tip of the iceberg as to the rich maritime cultural landscape and the submerged cultural resources that the Caribbean coast of Colombia holds and we highly anticipate returning soon in order to continue the search for historic shipwrecks and gain a better understanding of the full extent of the resources in the region so that we can all continue to make new discoveries about our shared past.

Funding and support provided by a National Geographic Society-Waitt Grant, the Universidad del Norte, the Ministerio de Culturathe 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 ColombiaHalcyon Dive SystemsCabañas Anayansi, Dive and Green Dive Centerthe Way Family Foundation, and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.



Changing Planet


Meet the Author
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.