Martin Roberts, the UK specialist who worked as a consultant on the Punta Cana site, discusses the importance of the Pewter Wreck.
Hispaniola, a name redolent with
tales of pirates and the riches of the New World, is giving up
treasures in simple pewter too.
Just off Punta Cana, the easternmost point
of the island, the remains of a ship and its cargo of European
trade goods were found in 2011. Probably a Spanish merchantman out
of Seville, the vessel had nearly reached the end of its long and
hazardous crossing of the Atlantic when it came to grief. We do not
yet know the identity of the ship, but we do know it must have sunk
between the late 1540s and the early 1560s.
For two and a half years divers have worked
to recover the cargo, often having to chisel through several inches
of rock to reach the artefacts beneath. What they found is
astounding: an intact export cargo of non-perishable wares, made in
Europe in the mid 16th century.
Chief among the finds are some 1200 pieces
of pewter tableware, enough to lay a banquet for more than 100
This is the largest assemblage of pewter
ever discovered, and that it should be of such early date is doubly
amazing. About a third bears the mark of Alderman Sir Thomas
Curtis, the most important London pewterer of the 16th Century,
Mayor of London in 1557 - his mark also appears on much of the
pewter from the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship, lost in
Tens of other makers' marks have been
recorded, many of which can now be attributed to pewterers who
worked in London, Antwerp and Bruges. Like a Rosetta Stone, this
discovery is serving as a key to help interpret much more about the
pewter and pewterers of the 16th century.
The condition of the pewter is astonishing:
some is as good as it was when it left the workshops in London and
Without the familiar patina pewter acquires
when exposed to the air, we can now better appreciate Harrison's
observation from hisDescription of Englandin 1577: "a garnish
of good… English pewter [is] esteemed almost so precious as the
like number of vessels that are made of fine silver".
Pewter makes up about half the cargo from Punta Cana. Other
finds include brass bowls and weights from Nuremburg,
Venetian-style glass, bronze mortars cast in Castilian foundries,
bars of tin likely mined in Cornwall, brass candlesticks,
Andalusian ceramics, bone combs perhaps made in Paris, ivory pocket
sundials, thimbles, bundles of cloth (from which only the leaden
cloth seals survive), and a wide range of other common trade goods
of the time.