400-Year-Old Shipwreck May Be Portugal’s Greatest Discovery

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A ship dating to the late 1500s or early 1600s was discovered earlier this month off the coast of Portugal, and it’s already looking like one of the most significant finds in the country’s history.

In the words of one specialist, the shipwreck is “the most important find of all time” for Portugal, according to Newsweek.

Many items were discovered in the wreckage, including cannons, spices, shells and Chinese ceramics. Four centuries ago, the spice trade was big business between Portugal and India. The cowrie shells were once used as currency to trade slaves in some parts of Africa. The ceramics date from the Wanli Emperor, late in the Ming dynasty.

The wreck was discovered thanks to a 10-year archaeological project. The 400-year-old ship has been called the “discovery of a decade,” according to the BBC.

The ship was found on September 4 off the coast of Cascais. Early estimates indicate that the ship was returning to Portugal from India sometime between 1575 and 1625. NPR reports that divers spent four days working on the site to recover all the items.

The wreckage covers an area roughly 328 feet by 164 feet, according to Fox News.

This is the first shipwreck discovered in Portugal since 1994. The ship discovered at that time was found close to the site of this more recent discovery. The project team says that this ship is in better shape, structurally, than the 1994 discovery.

“From a conservation perspective, both of the assets as of the ship itself, this discovery is of great patrimonial value,” said Jorge Freire, the director of the project, according to CNN.

Freire and the rest of the project team members will spend the next days and weeks looking through historical archives in an attempt to find out the name of the ship.

The cannons are a key factor in determining the ship’s age, as they display the Portuguese coat of arms. The bronze cannons and Chinese pottery have offered substantial clues in dating the ship. Next, the items found in the wreckage will be more closely examined by the Portuguese directorate-general for cultural heritage.

“It’s an extraordinary discovery that allows us to know more about our history, reinforcing our collective identity and shared values,” said Carlos Carreiras, mayor of Cascais, as reported by The Guardian.

The discovery could lead to a new understanding of this particular time in Portuguese history, when ships sailed frequently back and forth between Portugal and India. Those involved with the discovery are expecting to learn a lot from the ship and the artifacts found with it, each of which has a story to tell and information to reveal.