Spanish Shipwreck Changed the Course of History?

An international team of archaeologists has found a shipwreck that may be connected to one of the most important naval battles in Latin American history.

 The vessel, a Spanish warship built in the early 18th century, may have been intentionally sunk in 1741 during the Battle of Cartagena de Indias, an upset Spanish victory during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, a battle with Great Britain for economic control of the Caribbean. The battle has long been a cultural touchstone in Colombia, which has celebrated the valiant Spanish defense.

Found in some 16 feet (5 meters) of water off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, the ship’s preservation is remarkable. Large portions of the ship’s bottom are mostly intact, its wooden beams almost perfectly protected from looters and undersea life by layers of sediment.

The vessel’s exposed timbers, which have been scanned and modeled in 3D, offer researchers a unique, unrivaled opportunity to study 18th-century shipbuilding.

“It’s an incredibly exciting find, especially if it is what they think it is,” says Jennifer McKinnon, an underwater archaeologist at East Carolina University who isn’t involved with the excavation. “Old World, Spain-built vessels in the New World are rather rare.”

The find also marks an important milestone for Colombian archaeologists, who are taking unprecedented steps to study and preserve the site.

“This discovery is very important, but its cultural significance is much higher,” says Carlos del Cairo, an underwater archaeologist and head of Colombia’s Fundación Terra Firme, which is leading the excavation. “It’s [a] symbol of heroism, of ‘Cartagena the Heroic,’ that defended itself against the British to the last.”  …

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