Finisterre Shipwreck Survey

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The Cape Finisterre itself extends from the mainland into the North Atlantic, along one of the most important maritime routes in the region. With its rocky coastline and reefs, brutal winter storms, dangerous currents, and dense fogs this dangerous coastline is known in Spain as La Costa de la Muerte (Coast of Death) and has become the final resting place for many ships. One of the worst maritime disasters that occurred in this area took place on the night of October 28, 1596, when a storm took an armed Spanish fleet off Cape Finisterre. Written sources reveal that 25 ships were lost and more than 2000 men drowned. The fleet had departed from Lisbon under the command of Martin de Padilla, and was composed of about 80 large ships including galleons from Ragusa, northern hulks, naos, galizabras, and other types of vessels. The fleet was heading to Ireland to disembark an expeditionary army to support the insurrection of the Count of Tyrone against the English.

In the last decades of the 20th century, the remains of what seemed to be one of the 1596 shipwrecks were discovered by seafood harvesters at Punta Restelos. In 2007, looting of this shipwreck was detected and communicated to the authorities. The Regional Government of Galicia supported a preliminary archaeological survey of the Punta Restelos shipwreck to document the archaeological remains. The survey was conducted by the Spanish archaeologist Miguel San Claudio and his Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firm Archeonauta S.L. In 2011, PhD student Jose Luis Casabán and Associate Professor Filipe Castro of the Nautical Archaeology Program of Texas A&M University joined archaeologist Miguel San Claudio to conduct further research of the 1596 shipwreck remains documented at Punta Restelos and the other 16th century shipwrecks discovered in the Finisterre area. The official directors of the Finisterre Shipwreck Survey are Miguel San Claudio, Jose Luis Casabán, and Filipe Castro.


ABOVE: Archaeologists measure a ship-shaped ingot recovered from the wreck site (Photo: INA).