Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Columbus Mystery Ship Volume 55 Number 1, January/February 2002
by Colleen P. Popson

While the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria are the best known of Columbus' ships, a more obscure vessel from the explorer's fourth voyage to the New World has captured Panamanian archaeologists' imaginations. The remains of a ship found off the country's Atlantic coast near the port of Nombre de Dios and dating to the beginning of the sixteenth century may be the Vizcaina, scuttled after Columbus and his crew, low on supplies and hounded by angry natives, were forced to escape the region in 1503.

Found not far from Portobelo, where the Vizcaina reportedly was scuttled, the ship had been stripped of its rigging. Cannon recovered are of a type known to have been used on Columbus' ships. Further, details of the ship's construction indicate it dates to the time of the Vizcaina: the hull was held together with wooden pegs instead of nails and had not been covered with protective sheets of lead, a practice that became customary by 1508. Still, nothing has been found to definitively identify the ship as the Vizcaina, and there is some speculation that the ship may actually have been one used by conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Continuing research by Panama's Instituto Nacional de Cultura should help solve the mystery.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America