MARITIME EXPLORATIONS
NUESTRA SENORA DE LA CONCEPCION (1638)

Background

The Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion was a Manila Galleon that wrecked on the island of Saipan in 1638 when sailing from Manila to Acapulco. She was discovered in 1987 by Pacific Sea Resources Inc., a company founded by Bill Mathers. Excavation was carried out over two seasons, four months in 1987 and six months in 1988. As it transpired, the ship struck a fringing reef at the point of Agingan Bay, then ground along the reef for nearly a kilometre leaving a trail of ballast stones and artefacts. She eventually came to rest against the reef in the centre of the bay. Eddy currents swept over a hundred stoneware storage jars well out into the bay, depositing them in up to 75 metres of water.

Mathers pioneered responsible archaeological excavation by a commercial company, spending large sums of money on computerised documentation systems and commissioning expert research into the recovered artefacts. Flecker acted as Project Engineer and Dive Operations Manager during both seasons of excavation work.

 

Spread

In the first season operations were conducted from a supply boat with a crew of 20. Diving utilised both scuba and surface supplied AH3 helmets, while air lifts were used for excavation. In the second season a 46 metre long rig support vessel was used, with a crew of up to 30. Scuba, hooka, and the AH3 were used for diving, with in-water decompression. A 3-man mini-submersible and an observation bell were also used for short periods. High powered water dredges were driven by the ship's fire monitor pump.

 

Recovered Cargo

The cargo consisted largely of intricately worked gold jewellery, some encrusted with gem stones. There was also a wide variety of storage jars, cannon balls, and metal artefacts. The late Ming blue-and-white porcelain that originally made up a large portion of the cargo did not fare well after 350 years of typhoons.

Concepcion Details and Photos

 

Cargo Disposition

The cargo was sold as a complete collection to a Japanese company that planned to build a hotel on Saipan. They intended to display the finds in a museum in the foyer of the hotel. Unfortunately, due to economic circumstances, the hotel was never built. The Japanese company has returned the collection to the Government of the Northern Mariana Islands where it is now on public display.

Publications

1. The Archaeological Excavation of the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, Mathers et al, Pacific Sea Resources, 1990.

2. Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, National Geographic, Vol. 178(3), September 1990.

3. Treasures of the Concepcion, Mathers et al, Apa Publications, 1993.

4. Discovery Channel documentary.

 
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