Introduction to the Artifacts

Hundreds of artifacts came from the wreck of El Nuevo Constante. They are unusual because of their variety and their good preservation. Examples include all manner of metal and wooden ship fittings and structural parts. Other artifacts are weapons, possessions of the crew and passengers, and cargo.

Divers also found many objects called concretions. In these, layers of calcium carbonate, iron rust, sand, clay, and shell cover small artifacts. Archaeologists weighed these concretions and x-rayed some of them. They broke most open and recorded their contents. Many concretions contained parts of spikes, nails, and bolts. Some also had pieces of ceramics, wood, bone, and cannon shot.

In spite of the Spanish salvage, many items were still on the wreck. Spanish authorities must have been unable to find or to transport many objects. Perhaps they thought some of them were not important enough to salvage.

The following sections tell what archaeologists and historians learned about the ship, the cargo, and personal items of the passengers and crew.

The Ship and Accessories

Historical records describe the ship. Documents of March 1764 say El Nuevo Constante was a vessel of about 470 tons. It was 121 feet long, 30 feet wide, 19 feet deep, and had three masts. Records indicate it had four pumps, four large anchors, and two small ones. It was armed with eighteen 8-pounder and four 4- pounder cannons. It also carried 36 muskets, 18 pairs of pistols, 24 war axes, and ammunition. El Nuevo Constante, originally the Duke of York, probably was of British construction and carried British arms.

The largest object recorded in the excavation was the lower 3 to 4 feet of the ship's hull. Its measurements are similar to those in the historical records. It is 127.5 feet long and 26 feet at its widest point. Excavators cleared most of the interior that did not have decking. However, the compact mud kept them from going deeper than a foot or so down the hull exterior. In the center of this booklet is a drawing that shows the wreck as archaeologists mapped it. It was left in place at the end of fieldwork and allowed to fill in naturally and silt over.

The hull gives a lot of information about shipbuilding in the 1700s. Frame timbers average 11 to 13 inches in width. These are the large pieces that curve upward to form the ribs of the ship. Three cross sections show floor frame shapes required to achieve the curve of the hull. The frame timbers are oak. The large central timber, known as the keelson, is intact down much of the length of the vessel. One-inch diameter iron bolts attach it to the keel and other pieces. A large portion of the interior decking, or "ceiling" planking, also is still in place. Identified samples of ceiling planking are pine.

Wooden planks cover the outside of the hull. Probing with a small iron rod showed that the hull planking is intact on the remaining part of the vessel. These planks are 4 inches thick and up to 13 inches wide. "Trunnels" or "tree nails" (wooden pegs) and iron bolts attach the hull planks to frames. The trunnels are approximately 1.75 inches in diameter. The hull planks and trunnels are made of white oak.

Cross sections
Cross sections of the hull of El Nuevo Constante.

Wood sheathing was often used to reduce worm damage to the planking. Shipbuilders spread tar, often mixed with animal hair, on the hull and then covered it with wood sheathing. Sheathing made from 1-inch-thick spruce boards was found attached to El Nuevo Constante's hull. Presumably, most of the lower hull once had this sheathing, though it remained in only a few places.

Several hundred metal and wooden artifacts came from El Nuevo Constante. Most relate to the structure and outfitting of the ship. Examples are iron anchors and two iron gudgeons, or braces, that attached the rudder to the ship.

Two anchors were found during dredging at the site. The more intact of the two anchors has a broken tip at the end of one of its arms. This anchor has a shank length of 10.5 feet, an arm length of 3.5 feet, and a fluke length of 18.1 inches. The hole in the anchor, called an eye loop, has a diameter of 3.2 inches. The other anchor is approximately the same size. It is bent and splintered along the shank, has two broken flukes, and is missing the eye loop. These probably are the two small anchors reported to have been on board.

Many iron artifacts are fastenings or fittings of various sorts. These include spikes and bolts, an iron side loop, or eyebolt, with a ring, and fragments of iron preventer plates. Preventer plates were fastened to the side of the ship and were attachments for ropes from the mast.

Eyebolt and preventer plate
A.Eybolt before cleaning
B. Portion of preventer plate before cleaning
C. Portion of preventer plate after cleaning

Other artifacts also relate to the ship and its operation. Examples are lead sheathing, parts of two bilge pumps, bricks, chunks of coal, ballast stones, and a copper soldering iron. Wooden timbers and trunnels, a wooden pulley wheel, and firewood also came from the wreck.


A large number of lead pieces were found throughout the vessel. Most of them appear to have been used as patches on the hull. Round and square holes are in several patches and strips. They show that many shapes and sizes of nails were used trying to keep the hull protected and watertight. Two figure eight-shaped lead pieces also are from the ship. These may have served as gaskets or seals.

Bilge pumps
Bilge pump bases

Divers recovered two bases of wooden bilge pumps from the middle part of the vessel. These pieces are the bottoms of the long pump shafts that extended from the low, inner part of the hull to an upper deck. The outside shape of each shaft is hexagonal, and the central, circular hole is 3.5 inches in diameter. They are made of elm. Each specimen has a lead screen nailed to the base.

Lead patches

More than 185 pounds of brick came from the ship. These bricks may be from the kitchen, or galley, since fireproofing the cooking area was a vital concern on a wooden ship. Two basic types of brick were found. One is a large, red, rectangular brick or tile. This type is an average of 2.5 inches thick, 9 inches wide, and 17 inches long. The other is a smaller, flatter brick, that is yellow, red, gray, or brown. This smaller type averages 1.5 inches in thickness, 5 inches in width, and 10.5 inches in length.


Other objects possibly from the galley are firewood and several pieces of coal. Firewood pieces are 12 to 14 inches long and are identified as pine. The ship carried ballast stones in the bottom of the hull to give it stability. A layer of ballast stones up to 3 feet thick covered much of the wreck. The stones removed from the ship weigh a total of several tons. Most are round, granite, river cobbles. Their average size is between 8 and 10 inches in diameter.

Ballast stones
Ballast stones

Member ships of the New Spain Fleet carried valuable cargo. Therefore, their protection was a great concern for the Spanish government. Spain provided warships to escort the merchant vessels on their homeward journeys. The ships themselves also had armament of varying sizes.

Iron Cannon
Iron cannon.

Three iron cannons and an assortment of ammunition were found at the wreck. The cannons are all about the same size. Cannons of this type usually are called 9-pounders, but the Spanish documents refer to them as 8-pounders. They are 8 feet long and have a muzzle bore diameter of about 4.25 inches. They fired cannon balls weighing about 9 pounds.

Ammunition includes several types of shot. The largest of these are three cast iron cannon balls. They weigh from 8 to 10 pounds apiece and measure about 4.1 inches in diameter. These were the solid shot used in the 9-pounder cannons.

Pieces of two bar shot also were recovered. Each has two solid iron cylinders at the ends of a short connecting iron bar. This type of projectile mainly would have been for destroying a ship's rigging and sails. The bar shot also would have been used in the 9-pounder cannons.

Cannon ball
Cannon ball, iron shot, lead shot

Small iron and lead balls that are 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter came from the ship. They probably were used as grape or canister shot. Grape shot is a cluster of several small balls tied or wrapped with canvas in a bundle. Canister shot refers to small shot enclosed in a wooden or metal canister that burst open upon firing. Generally, lead was used forr canister shot while iron was used for grape shot. The cannons recovered from the wreck could have fired both canister and grape shot.

Six iron shot with diameters of 1.8 to 2 inches represent the list type of ammunition. These are larger than the other iron grape shot. How they were used on the ship is unknown.