What are the Clues?
On board a ship pottery vessels would have been used to store supplies and to serve food on.
Like in land archaeology, pottery is used as one of the major dating tools by maritime archaeologists. The reason for this is that pottery styles change over time giving distinct periods of use. A ship of this size would have been carrying a wide range of pottery vessels. There were no complete vessels found but the pot sherds survived well after the ship sank to the bottom of the Caicos Bank.
The fragments of European pottery on board are typical of types made in Spain and Portugal during the late 15th and early 16th centuries: “olive jars,” (left) escudillas (bowls) (right), and lebrillos (basins). Because the Portuguese were not in these waters at that time, the ship was almost certainly Spanish.
The archaeologists could easily identify the European items as they had specialists on their team who had worked with these types of finds before. However some of the pottery was difficult to identify, and this generated some interest; could it be locally made material?
Originally some of the poorer quality pottery was identified as being from the Lucayan period. This pottery, known as Palmetto ware, was distinct for the Bahamas Archipelago area. If this was true it would have shown that the ship’s crew almost certainly would have had contact with the Lucayans. The maritime archaeologists were unfamiliar with this pottery style and sought the assistance of specialists in this subject area. Unfortunately, these specialists concluded that these pieces were not made by the Lucayans. This was just one of the hurdles that the archaeologists encountered when trying to date the wreck.