San Pedro de Alcantara

conclusions from 1999

The San Pedro de Alcantara summer campaign started in June with the coming to Portugal of Peruvian anthropologist Judith Vivar Anaya.

skeleton in chains, presumably Inka prisonerMaria Luisa Pinheiro Blot, the archaeologist in charge of the burial site of the San Pedro passengers who died in the 1786 shipwreck, had prepared for years this mission, materialized in 1999 thanks to the support of the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology (IPA).

The results of the investigation of both the anthropologist and the archaeologist provided by the later during the 3rd Congress of Peninsular Archaeology held in late September 1999 in Vila Real de Tras-os-Montes, in northern Portugal and will be available in the 8th volume of the coming proceedings of this congress.

Regarding the summer underwater campaign, decisive new results have been achieved through the excavation of a 400 sq.m. area of the sea-bottom. The area investigated was materialized in real-time at a scale of 1/20 in a seventy kilos clay model by Anita, a sculptor and long-time diver.

Vasco Pires, San Pedro de Alcantara, PortugalThe results of the summer investigation, which include findings of parts of the vessel’s equipments and personal belongings, improved considerably the knowledge of the scatter pattern of the several acres-wide shipwreck site. The important progress thus achieved in the understanding of the distribution processes underlying the position of the artefacts underwater culminated on September 6th and 7th with the visit to the underwater site of the Australian specialist Dr I. MacLeod who undertook micro-voltage and pH measurements in situ.

Head of the Conservation department at the Western Australia Maritime Museum, Fremantle, and world-known expert of corrosion processes on shipwreck sites, I. MacLeod generously brought an wholly new light and an essential understanding to the observation of the site and the processing of the data, focusing on a detailed observation of corrosion processes within the whole underwater scatter area and the general population of metallic artefacts.

The ocean was part of the full supporters of this bright, long, shiny, busy summer, with no swell around, little wind and clear water for days in a row, an unusual feature for a coast widely opened to fog, northern winds and waves in that period of the year, a result of the stability of the Azores anticyclone and the associated cooling of the Portuguese waters lying to the East of the N. Atlantic high-pressure area. Something different occurred this time, with S. winds blowing one day after another, Neptune’s blessing as far as we were concerned.

“You won’t get that again for the next fifty years” said an old shipbuilder living in the fishing town nearby, at the very end of August .

But we got it and thank all those who helped to make this rare summer come true : among those are our friends, divers and participants who busily made the campaign come true, sometimes until physical exhaustion, weeks in a row ; the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology and its underwater branch (CNANS), the Peniche Municipality and several private companies including the Portuguese distributor of MapInfo software (spatially referenced data-processing tool), Telecel (wireless comm.), Entreposto (4-wheel drive 2,5 l. turbo Diesel pick-up by Nissan) and those at Grupo Forum (Lisbon) who believed in our faith and helped this episode of our search.

Obrigado mar.

Jean-Yves Blot, October 1999

Related texts

Project San Pedro de Alcantara, Copyright © Jean-Yves Blot, Peniche, Portugal. 
Concept: Francisco Oliveira, Ocidente - Centro de Estudos de História e Etnografia Marítimas. Underwater photo: Per Åkesson. Rev maj '10

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