The anchor found off the coast of Veracruz in the search for Cortés' ships.

Fifteenth-Century Anchor Found Off Mexico’s Gulf Coast

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Fifteenth-Century Anchor Found Off Mexico’s Gulf Coast

The anchor found off the coast of Veracruz in the search for Cortés' ships.
The anchor found off the coast of Veracruz in the search for Cortés’ ships.

Could a half-buried anchor be part of the wreckage of one of the conquistador Hernán Cortés ‘ scuttled ships in the ocean floor off Veracruz?

The Spanish adventurer had 2 options in 1519: face mutiny or quell a rebellion by scuttling 10 of his 11 ships, which would give the crews no option but to move inland with him toward the heart of the Mexica empire. He chose the latter option, which has led to a project whose goal is to locate the remains of Cortes’ fleet.

That project, led by archeologist Roberto Junco Sánchez and anthropologist Chris Horrell, made it’s first significant to find this week — an anchor dating back to the fifteenth century with wood still attached to it, identified as a type of oak found only in northern Spain.

Junco, head of the Underwater Archaeology Project at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), explained that the anchor was found just 12 meters below the surface, all but covered by sediment that helped keep the piece in good condition.

Preliminary analyses of the wood have been used to date it, narrowing it down to 2 periods of time, either from 1417 to 1492 or from 1450 to 1530.

The data is still not enough to link the anchor to one of Cortés’ ships, explained Junco, or with the ships of other Spanish explorers.

The anchor remains where it was found, but experts continue to analyze it using a 3-dimensional reconstruction. The plan is to remove and stabilize it in order to guarantee its conservation.

The researchers’ work continues as they prepare a proposal for the second season of exploration season. The search employs a magnetometer and sonar among other technologies to locate possible parts of the ships.

“The project is in its initial stages. We have before us many more hours of diving and visiting the sites marked by magnetic anomalies, and determining if those correspond to historical or contemporary objects,” said Junco. The area under exploration is off Playa Villa Roca, about 75 kilometers north of the city of Veracruz.


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Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.

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