At the time the Molasses Reef wreck occurred, Spain was beginning its domination of the New World — control that lasted nearly 350 years. That position was a direct result of Columbus’ discoveries and those of his successors. The vessel that permitted such discoveries was the caravel, a fast, seaworthy, handy ship that was a hybrid of earlier Northern European and Mediterranean ship designs.
The Molasses Reef Wreck was undoubtedly a caravel. But because 15th-century shipbuilding was a traditional art handed down from master to apprentice, caravel design was not preserved on paper. We know little today of this ship technology that allowed Europeans to travel the thousands of miles to the New World. It may be difficult to believe, but better representations and models survive of Egyptian and Roman vessels from more than 2000 years ago. In addition, some outstanding Ancient World wreck sites have been discovered.
Viking longships, dating back at least 1000 years, have been found preserved in burial mounds. Although they date back only 500 years, caravels remain a tantalizing mystery. This lack of knowledge has prevented any accurate replica being built of any of Columbus’s ships though a number of poor replicas have been launched over the past century.
The Molasses Reef Wreck is a mystery. Though the Spanish were thorough record keepers, much of the documentation from this early exploration period no longer exists. While archaeology has provided many clues about the ship’s general identity, we have found no clue to the ship’s individual identity, despite a careful search of archival material.
What are the clues the archaeologists found?