National Geographic : 1990 Sep
most of the rim of a heavy gold plate, nearly nine inches wide. Could the lady with the roses be part of the same set, a remnant of a waylaid royal gift? Turning to my diving partner, Vichai Prommi, a burly but gen tle Thai, I hold up the find. Vichai's topside job is assistant cook, but he takes his turn on the dig with a "hookah" -a mouth piece attached to an air hose from the ship's diving compres sor. Vichai's eyes widen behind his face mask, and he gives me a congratulatory thumbs-up. Suddenly a four-foot wave sweeps into the channel, slam ming us rudely into the abrasive coral. The reef is riddled with these "surge" channels, formed by coral outcroppings alternating with deep grooves. Incoming waves are funneled into the grooves, leaving eroded coral rubble and sediment. The work here is hazardous, but we expect to find more arti facts in these layers; the ballast stones suggest that this is where the galleon first struck the reef, tearing out her bottom. But progress is slow. T HE MANILA galleon trade was one of the most persistent, peril ous, and profitable commercial enterprises in Euro pean colonial history. Between 1565 and 1815 it carried the trea sures of the Orient to the West via Mexico in exchange for New World silver and the manufac tured goods of Europe. More than 40 galleons were lost in treacherous seas over the centu ries, but the search for their remains has traditionally focused on the Atlantic and Caribbean legs of the trip. Operating out of Singapore, our underwater recovery group, Pacific Sea Resources, is the first archaeo logical team to excavate the rem nants of a Manila galleon. As a student of Asian history at Yale, a former U. S. Navy sal vage officer in Vietnam, and a marine construction manager in Asia since the war, I have long been fascinated with this rich exchange of goods and cultures. I had determined that if we found a Manila galleon, the excava tion-although handled by a commercial recovery company would be conducted under rigor ous archaeological standards, and with the advice and coopera tion of academicians throughout the world. Basic research on the Concep cidn took two years, as we pored through archives in Seville, Rome, Guam, Mexico City, the United States, and Manila itself. Our study suggested that the Concepcion was the largest Spanish ship built up to her time-between 140 and 160 feet long and displacing some 2,000 tons, with a loaded draft of between 18 and 22 feet. The Concepcidn was also one of the richest galleons of her day, with cargo valued at four million pesos, worth tens of millions of dollars today. The general site of her remains was known, for much of the Concepcidn's cargo and fittings had been salvaged from the shallow waters of the An enemy called weather claimed many more galleons than did piratesroaming the Pa cific. Useless againstboth wind and wave, cannonballsfrom the Con cepci6n lie corrodedand encrusted with coral as they await recovery off the coast of Saipan (right). In a warehouse in Singapore, the author (opposite) holds one of 156 clay storagejarsfound intact. With this one exception-anearthenware olivejarfrom Europe-allwere found to be stonewarefrom the Orient.In all, divers uncovered eight different types, most bearing marks representingeither their owner or their contents. Such jars once held water, wine, oil, and other vital suppliesfor the hazardous voyage east to Acapulco. Since the Concepci6n was barely contents of aromaticresins. After a month out of port, most of these the removal of coral encrustations, jars would have been full at the each jarspent as long as six weeks time of the wreck. Amazingly, two in a barreloffresh water to extract containersstill held their original damagingsalts.