National Geographic : 1990 Sep
Cochin China (present-day Viet nam), and Siam (Thailand), and one was of Spanish design. Our conservators carefully sifted the sediment. Two of the containers held congealed Orien tal aromatic resin used as incense, and others contained small animal bones still bearing scars from a butcher's knife. We found owners' initials and sym bols in Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese engraved on the jars. The symbols indicated that the jars had orginally held antimony, saltpeter, salt, vinegar, sulfur, and wine. But most jars would have con tained drinking water. The Manila galleons made no stops on their arduous five- to eight month journey to Acapulco, so water had to be carried on board, secured on deck or below in more than a thousand earthen or stoneware vessels. Sturdily made, they were used over and over again, often for decades. F OR EXPLORATION at depths far beyond safe scuba range, the Tengar carried a two-man div ing bell. We also used an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), essentially a mobile video camera guided from the surface. In addi tion, a submersible that held two observers and a pilot was used for even deeper searches and confirmed that the wreckage did not extend beyond 250 feet. Under Dr. Parker's direction we monitored the reef regularly for any possible effects of our work on the surrounding envi ronment. The information we collected was summarized in monthly reports to the govern ment of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, with whom we worked closely, and to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Two field seasons of data showed that our activities had minimal negative impact on the reef. Nuestra Seiiora de la Concepci6n Conservation work continued around the clock to stabilize and protect fragile objects immersed for centuries. After cleaning, all items were mea sured, photographed, and drawn on paper, and their images recorded on laser disks in the ship's computers. All details, including precise locations, were entered into our computerized data base for the final archaeo logical report. Many artifacts showed dam age from typhoons and wave action long after the Concepcidn ome of the 997 gold buttons found at the wreck site-each taggedfor identification-forman array offancy filigree (left). Such items were made in the thousands by Chinese and Filipino craftsmen for export to the West. A gold comb (right)belonged to Doia Catalinade Guzmdn of Manila, whose name is abbreviated in appliquedgold dots. Whether or not she was on board the Concep ci6n is unknown. Combs made from other materials,especially tor toiseshell and ivory, were more common. In 1767 one galleon, the San Carlos, carrieda cargo of 80,000 combs. Gold does not corrode in salt water, yet centuries ofpunishment went down. One morning con servator Myrna Mella Clamor and I examined a curved bronze object that lay soaking in a chemical solution. "It's a dol phin!" she exclaimed. Although badly corroded, the dolphin, a lifting handle from a cannon, was a significant find. It may well have been torn off and lost during the efforts of the early Spanish salvage crew. What at first appeared to be an amorphous iron-stained chunk of coral was actually a concretion of 564 individual by abrasive sand and pounding waves have taken their toll. In Sin gapore a goldsmith restores the bot tom of a goldfiligree box (below), whose top lies on his workbench.