Jesús Alberto Aldana Mendoza
Place: Bajo de Salmedina, Cartagena de Indias
Coordinates (approximate): Lat. ; Long.
Dated: 18th Century
Bajo de Salmedina, located in the open sea west of Cartagena de Indias, is one of the sites with the greatest archaeological potential in Colombia due to a large number of ships from different periods and regions that were shipwrecked while traveling the Colombian Caribbean. Currently, there are several registered ships, or at least the remains of many of them, in this marine reef. Around 1991, the first archaeological approach was made in Colombia to one of the sites (called Salmedina I) where a series of artifacts linked to a possible wooden boat had previously been identified. In this way, during a couple of months the documentation and recovery of several elements of the boat was carried out, which, according to the evidence found, may have come from England and date back to the second half of the 18th century.
Being the first approach in Colombian waters framed in a maritime, underwater and nautical archaeology, the working group was composed by an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional team that contributed in different measures to the development of this project. Technical and human support came from academic and governmental institutions, including the Universidad de los Andes, the Armada Nacional de Colombia, the Departamento de Buceo y Salvamento (DEBUSA), the Centro de Investigaciones Oceanográficas e Hidrográficas (CIOH), the Museo Naval del Caribe de Cartagena de Indias and the Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales (FIAN).
Story of the Ship
Despite the diverse amount of information that has been compiled in historical sources regarding the shipwrecks that have occurred in recent centuries in Salmedina, the approximation made to the archaeological context did not yield greater data to recognize its identity or to collect any evidence that would promptly suggest the type of vessel that was being worked on.
Since there is no knowledge about the identity of the ship, or at least an approximation to it, the only information that was obtained about the loss of the ship is linked to several elements that were found with traces of fire and burning, as well as some burnt materials. Interpretations at the time suggested, first, that the ship had probably exploded and then run aground, until its eventual total loss.
Due to the high potential that the Bajo Salmedina has in relation to historical shipwrecks, during the last decades the area has been exposed to diverse plundering by different actors interested in the economic benefit of the extracted artifacts. Therefore, for several years different people had known the location of the site linked to Salmedina I and the elements that made up the archaeological context. Thanks to this, the intervention to the site could be carried out at the beginning of the 90s, in order to advance the first pioneering work of nautical archaeology in Colombia.
Approximate location of the ship (Google Earth)
Site Formation Process
Little information is available regarding the physical context where the Salmedina I shipwreck was deposited, however, from the basic characteristics of the bass it is possible to assume several of the alteration factors that have historically affected the site. As for the natural ones, due to the shallow depth of the Bajo Salmedina, it is known that there is a great amount of fauna in the site and the continuous incidence of sunlight, which produces high temperatures, as well as different types of microorganisms that affect the material culture deposited in the surroundings. Similarly, oceanographic currents could have caused considerable damage to the different sites and their original characteristics. With respect to the anthropic sites, one of the main factors is the extraction of material culture to which these types of contexts have been exposed due to their shallowness. Likewise, another activity to consider is that the shallows are a site where recreational diving has been practiced for several years and, therefore, this could have transformed the disposition of some elements linked to the shipwrecks that have occurred.
Little information is currently preserved about the elements linked to the ship, so the data are very limited and are gathered in a couple of compilations about Submerged Cultural Heritage in Colombia. As for the ballast, it is known that the site had a large area of stones distributed over several square meters throughout the site, however, more specific information has not been specified.
As for the ship’s equipment, the information is also very limited, so a couple of elements are specified that provide data on the possible geographical and temporal origin of the ship but without further analysis.
In this case, the existence of the remains of a partially buried anchor is highlighted, although no more specific information is available regarding measurements or shapes.
In relation to weapons, this is the category with which most information is available, since there were inventories of around 12 cannons, a large number of bullets of different calibres and 20 fragmentation grenades. A detailed approximation to one of the cannons made it possible to point out a first relative dating that ranges from 1714 to 1805, although the hypothesis established was that the cannon could be framed around a period of time around 1760.
Specific information on the hull of the boat is not known to date, it is only assumed that many of these elements in wood are not visible as they are covered by layers of coral or sediment. However, 23 fragments of lead and 1 copper sheet could be recorded, which possibly, without further documented data, could belong to the external fodder of the ship to avoid deterioration of the hull planks.
Only 68 tacks are referenced, although their material is not indicated, if they are attached to other elements or the context surrounding them.
As with the other elements of the ship, the information collected from artefacts linked to life on board is limited, since only 19 glass fragments are reported (although without any classification or typological characterisation).
Del Cairo, C., Riera, C., Aldana, J., Báez, V., Caro, G., Chávez, A. & Peñarete, A. (2019). Patrones de Navegabilidad, Accidentalidad y Hundimientos en el Caribe Colombiano: Siglos XVI-XX Como insumo para el registro nacional de patrimonio arqueológico sumergido. Fase piloto 1. Cartagena de Indias e inmediaciones y Riohacha. Universidad Externado de Colombia – Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia.
Romero, L. & Pérez, J. (2005). Naufragios y puertos marítimos en el Caribe colombiano. Siglo XXI editores.
Uribe, C. (1991). Informe del programa de arqueología submarina, Salmedina I. Manuscrito Inédito. Universidad de los Andes – Museo Naval del Caribe.
Uribe, C. (2006). Los inicios de la arqueología submarina en Colombia: Salmedina I. Historias Sumergida. Hacia la protección del Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático en Latinoamérica. Compiladores: Carlos Del Cairo & Catalina García. Universidad Externado de Colombia.