Archaeologists Discover Two Anchors Dating to the Conquest of Mexico

Image courtesy INAH

Published Dec 18, 2019 5:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

Archaeologists from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have discovered a set of two archaic anchors of the coast of Veracruz, and the artifacts' design dates from the era of conquistador Hernán Cortés. In the 16th century, the area was a busy trading hub for Spanish vessels, and they provide new context for the early Spanish presence in the region. 

The finds are in addition to another anchor discovered in 2018. The earlier find had an intact wooden stock, and laboratory analysis showed that it was hewn from a tree in the Cantabrian region of Spain sometime in the second half of the 15th century. 

The two newly-discovered anchors are substantially larger than the first, with the biggest measuring about 12 feet long. They lack their stocks, so they cannot be dated by wooden components, but their design corresponds to a style used in the 16th century. A pair of bumps may be found on their shanks at the height where the stocks were adjusted, running parallel to each bar. According to Christopher Horrell, an academic at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and a member of Submerged Archaeological Conservancy International (SACI), Spanish anchors after the 16th century were designed with these bumps perpendicular to the bars. 

All media courtesy INAH

"It is not clear if all three anchors belong to the same historical moment, but their alignment to the southwest coincides with the logic of Villa Rica as a port that protects ships from the north and northwest winds," said Dr. Roberto Junco, head of the Underwater Archeology Office (SAS) at INAH. 

In the spring of 1519, Cortés landed at a site he named Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, not far from the modern port of Veracruz, and he used it as a launching point for his campaign to conquer the Aztec empire. Cortés defeated the Aztecs in 1521, and by the middle of the century, the gold and silver that the conquistadores and their descendants mined in central Mexico made Villa Rica a wealthy seaport. 

Cortés scuttled his fleet of 11 ships at Villa Rica before his campaign, heading off any thought of retreat amongst his men. The orientation and style of the newly-discovered artifacts indicate that they could potentially be associated with these lost vessels, though as yet it is too early to speculate. 

“The conquest of Mexico was a seminal event in human history, and these shipwrecks, if we can find them, would be symbols of the cultural collision that led to what is now the West, geopolitical and socially speaking,” said Dr. Frederick Hanselmann of the University of Miami, a participant in the project.