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Analysis of Hull Remains, Ballast, and Artifact Distribution of a 16th-Century Shipwreck, Molasses Reef, British West Indies

Donald H. Keith and Joe J. Simmons III
Journal of Field Archaeology
Vol. 12, No. 4 (Winter, 1985), pp. 411-424
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
DOI: 10.2307/529967
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/529967
Page Count: 14
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Analysis of Hull Remains, Ballast, and Artifact Distribution of a 16th-Century Shipwreck, Molasses Reef, British West Indies
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Abstract

It has often been said that ships wrecked on coral reefs in shallow tropical water seldom preserve their archaeological integrity: that the wood of the hull is not sufficiently well-preserved to warrant study, that smaller iron artifacts invariably are in poor condition, that ballast of such wrecks has no archaeological significance, and that surviving components of these sites are frequently re-sorted and further degraded with each passing storm to the extent that artifact distributions are rendered senseless. This "conventional wisdom" that all shipwrecks are in "marine peril" and must be salvaged as soon as possible has supplied a pretext under which untold numbers of Caribbean shipwreck sites have been obliterated. Results from three seasons of excavation on a 16th-century shipwreck on Molasses Reef in the Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies, indicate that this loss of integrity is not always the case. Field methods for recording distributions of components within the site are described, and the results presented. Although the excavation is not yet completed, and only a small percentage of the total number of artifacts recovered has been cleaned, it is possible to make certain deductions regarding the date, nationality, and size of the vessel, under what conditions she arrived and how she was wrecked on Molasses Reef, and what subsequent activities have affected the site, and our ability to interpret it.

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