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Colonial Shipwrecks of Colombia: Investigating a Possible Structure Underwater

The remains of what appears to be a manmade wall at the south end of Bahia de la Gloria. Credit: Fritz Hanselmann/The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University

The remains of what appears to be a wall at the south end of Bahia de la Gloria at high tide, where the rocks meet the sandy seafloor.
Credit: Fritz Hanselmann/The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University

National Geographic Grantee and Texas State University Research Faculty Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann and a top-notch team of archaeologists from Colombia and the United States are leading an expedition to locate and document historic shipwrecks off of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Follow along with Fritz’s updates from the field. 

Aside from its two islands, the most obvious feature of Bahia de la Gloria is an elongated section of rocks that stretches from Isla Tarena to the mainland.  Locals call it “El Puente”, or the bridge.  While we continue to question whether or not it is manmade, it very much appears to be something constructed to operate as a breakwater and to create a small harbor.  We spent a full day measuring, mapping, walking, and snorkeling el puente, in order to determine of its dimensions and possible function.

Chris Horrell and I work with Juan Martin to measure and map the possible wall with a reel and a gps. Credit: Juan Martin/The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University

Chris Horrell, Juan Martin, and Fritz Hanselmann measure and map the possible wall with a tape and a GPS.
Credit: Juan Martin/The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University

As always, we left with more questions than we set out to answer.  Is this really manmade?  If so, why are we not observing more material culture?  Santa María was only active for 14 years, so lack of long-term activity could account for one potential answer.  Could the now-meandered Río Tarena have deposited such a large quantity of stones in such a controlled manner?  Clearly, much more archival research into potential port sites associated with the first settlement in Tierra Firme is warranted and will be at the top of the list for Jose Espinosa, our project historian, on his next trip to the archives of Seville.

Funding and support provided by a National Geographic Society-Waitt Grant, the Universidad del Norte, the Ministerio de Culturathe Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e HistoriaHalcyon Dive Systems, Cabañas Anayansi, Dive and Green Dive Center, the Way Family Foundation, and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.