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A cargo ship went down in 1681 packed with crates of swords, nails, & bolts of cloth

Ian Harvey

There is good news for marine archaeologists. The shipwreck discovered in 2011 near the coast of Panama has finally been identified as belonging to a Spanish merchant ship.

The wreck identified as Nuestra Señora de Encarnación, along with the tools and weapons found aboard the ship, has been well-preserved for more than 330 years.

Encarnación was a Mexican-built Spanish merchant vessel in the Tierra Firme fleet that supplied Spanish colonies in the Americas.

In 1681, a storm sunk the loaded ship at the mouth of the Charges River in Panama.

Scientists have found over a hundred boxes filled with sword blades, lead seals, ceramic artifacts, scissors, nails, wooden barrels, and mule shoes preserved in the wreck.

Scientists are thrilled with the find as it will help them understand the ship-building technology of the seventeenth century.

According to Fritz Hanselmann, who is an archaeologist with the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, “Ships that were built hundreds of years ago didn’t come with blueprints.”

The Encarnación, as well as the Tierra Firme fleet, was an important part of the Spanish economy. Hanselmann says, “These ships were the backbone of the Spanish colonies.”

The New Spain fleet was known to regularly transport precious metals such as gold and silver from the American colonies back home to Spain.

Spain is estimated to have imported precious metals worth 16 million pesos between the years 1590–1600. Another estimate reports imports of thirty-six million pounds of silver and four hundred thousand pounds of gold between the years 1521–1660.

The Encarnación had been found in 2011 by researchers on a mission to discover the remains of five other ships under the command of Captain Henry Morgan that had disappeared in 1671 on route to Panama City.