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Colonial Shipwrecks of Colombia: Looking to the Future

Four anchors at the Tortuga Shipwreck Site Credit: Fritz Hanselmann/The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University

Four anchors at the Tortuga Shipwreck Site
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. 

Now that we’re back in Cartagena, breaking our gear down and prepping for departure, one might ask as to the future of the two projects, the Sunken Ships of Cartagena and the Bahía de la Gloria Survey.  Even as we depart, we have already begun work on our field reports for these projects.  That is the part of archaeology that is often times overlooked: everything is documented, written up, and submitted to the permit-granting agency, which in this case is the  Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia (ICANH).  We are also making plans to return for a much longer field season in 2014 and our partners in the project will continue to move forward even in our absence.  The Colombian Navy’s Centro de Investigaciones Oceanográficas e Hidrográficas will conduct more in depth bathymetric survey of the bay, using a sidescan sonar, to expand our mapping of the wreck site in the bay and to also locate other potential sites.

It goes without saying that the sites that we have dove on, documented, studied, and mapped belong to Colombia.  For while they are part of a global heritage, they belong to the Colombian people.  The sites that we know of and the sites that we will continue to find  all deserve protection and proper management in order to be preserved for future generations.  Inasmuch, all of the sites will be added to the national database run by ICANH and monitoring procedures will be put into place in order to ensure the sites are preserved.  As a long-term part of the project, we are making plans to accomplish even more in the future.  Various initiatives include the creation of a system of marine protected areas around the sites in order to sustainably preserve not only the cultural resources, but the biological resources that make these shipwrecks their habitat.  Training and workshops in scientific diving, underwater archaeology techniques, and management will play an integral role as this work blossoms even more.  Finally, we have just exposed the tip of the iceberg as to the rich maritime cultural landscape and the submerged cultural resources that the Caribbean coast of Colombia holds and we highly anticipate returning soon in order to continue the search for historic shipwrecks and gain a better understanding of the full extent of the resources in the region so that we can all continue to make new discoveries about our shared past.

Funding and support provided by a National Geographic Society-Waitt Grant, the Universidad del Norte, the Ministerio de Culturathe Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, the Centro de Investigaciones Oceanográficas e Hidrográficas of the Dirección General Marítima, the Agencia Presidencial de Cooperación Internacional de ColombiaHalcyon Dive SystemsCabañas Anayansi, Dive and Green Dive Centerthe Way Family Foundation, and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.