Shipwreck In Panama Identified At Last

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Back in 2011, scientists searching for the shipwreck in Panama that sank under the command of the notorious privateer Henry Morgan came upon a wreck near the mouth of the Rio Chagres.

This year, following years of painstaking examination, nautical archaeologists from the Meadows Centre for Water and Environment at Texas State University have been able to announce the details of the discovery. The wreck, which, thanks to being half-buried in mud, is well preserved, is the 17th-century Spanish merchant ship Encarnación that sank in a storm en route from Cartagena, Colombia, to Portobelo, Panama.

Built in Mexico’s Veracruz, the Encarnación ferried gold and silver from the mines of the Americas to Spain and made the return trip laden with useful goods from the Continent. On its last journey, the Encarnación was carrying wooden boxes and barrels containing mule and donkey shoes, sword blades, scissors, and ceramics. That the cargo has survived in such good condition is an anomaly; 17th-century shipwrecks usually fall victim to looters and destructive bacteria.

The Meadows Centre team, who discovered the Encarnación, were searching for the five ships that sank as Henry Morgan and his fleet made their way to sack Panama City in 1671. They found the wreck using magnetic sensor equipment but, upon discovering the ship’s hold was full, knew it could not have been one of Captain Morgan’s fleet—his boats were empty in anticipation of the riches they were about to loot. The original search continues despite several of the guns that were lost overboard when the five ships sunk being recovered in 2010.

Further analysis of the artefacts recovered from the Encarnación is underway now at the laboratories Patronato Panamá Viejo, in Panama City. Patronato Panamá Viejo is a nonprofit organization that manages the archaeological site of the original site of Panama City, known as Panamá Viejo.

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Rebecca Adams

Rebecca Adams is a New Zealander living in Panama City. She has visited more than 35 countries around the world and is actively working to up that number.