What is inside the 400-year-old shipwreck found near Portugal?

Cargo of wrecked trading ship is ‘very well-preserved’, say archaeologists

Portugal shipwreck
(Image credit: Cascais municipal council)

Experts are hailing a 400-year-old shipwreck found off the Portuguese coast as “the discovery of the decade” due to its hoard of historical treasures.

Archaeologists spotted the 100m-long wreckage on the sea bed near Cascais, a popular resort on the western fringe of Lisbon, earlier this month.

Based on clues from the cargo, archaeologists believe the as-yet-unidentified trading ship was returning home from a voyage to India laden with valuable spices when it sank in the late 16th or early 17th century.

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“From a heritage perspective, this is the discovery of the decade,” said project director Jorge Freire.

Initial examinations have revealed that the contents of the ship are “very well-preserved” and offer fresh insight into maritime history during the age of the fabled spice route.

“This is a great discovery and its greatness lies in what it, and the artefacts, can tell us about the cultural landscape,” he said.

So what has been recovered so far?

Spices: Traces of peppercorns found in the wreckage help identify the purpose of the vessel. Archaeologists believe the ship was wrecked between 1575 and 1625, “when Portugal’s spice trade with India was at its peak”, Reuters reports.

Chinese porcelain: Pieces of Chinese ceramics found at the wreck site have been identified as belonging to the Wanli period, which lasted from 1573 to 1619, helping researchers narrow down the timeframe in which the shipwreck occurred, The Guardian reports.

Cannons: One of the most exciting finds, the ship’s artillery includes nine bronze cannons engraved with the Portuguese coat of arms.

Cowry shells: Seemingly innocuous, the small, jagged-edged shells carried by the vessel hide a dark chapter in Portuguese history. The country played a key role in the early days of the Atlantic slave trade, when cowry shells were frequently used as currency between slave traders along the African coast, says Reuters.

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