CARIBBEAN
WHAT: PIRATE TOWN & HARBOR
WHERE: PORT ROYAL, JAMAICA
EXCAVATION: 1981-1991
DATE OF DESTRUCTION: A.D. 1692

In 1981, INA, Texas A&M University, and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust began underwater archaeological investigations of the submerged portion of the 17th-century town of Port Royal, Jamaica. The Port Royal Project concentrated for 10 years on the submerged remains in the commercial center of the town. Once known as the ‘Wickedest City on Earth,’ Port Royal on the island of Jamaica was the second most important mercantile center in the English colonies during the late 17th century and a haven for privateers and pirates. On June 7 1692, a massive earthquake hit Jamaica, causing buildings to slide and disappear beneath the sea. An estimated 2000 residents were killed immediately and many more perished from injuries and disease in the following days.

The investigation of Port Royal yielded much more than simply trash and discarded items. An unusually large amount of perishable, organic artifacts were recovered, preserved in the oxygen-depleted underwater environment. Five buildings including work complexes with a pipe shop/tavern/cobbler shop and residential houses were investigated thoroughly, contributing significantly to our understanding of 17th-century town planning, architecture, diet, cooking activities, and other aspects of daily life. Some human remains were uncovered from under the bricks of one of the fallen buildings, exemplifying the destruction of the 1962 earthquake, and the remains of a ship underneath another building have also been identified.

Together with the vast treasury of complimentary historical documents, the underwater excavations of Port Royal have allowed for a detailed reconstruction of everyday life in an English colonial port city of the late 17th century.

Learn more at the Port Royal Project official site.

Relevant Bibliography

Hamilton, D. L. 2005. “Resurrecting “The Wickedest City in the World”: Port Royal, Jamaica.” In Beneath the Seven Seas edited by G.F. Bass, 164-171. New York and London: Thames and Hudson.

Smith, W.C. 1997.  “The Final Analysis of Weights from Port Royal, Jamaica.”  BAR International Series 675. Oxford: England.

Hamilton, D. L. 1996. “Historical Archaeology on British Sites in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean.”  In The Archaeology of Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century British Colonization in the Caribbean, United States, and Canada. Guides to Historical Archaeological Literature, No. 4. The Society for Historical Archaeology.

Hamilton, D. L. 1992. “Simon Benning, Pewterer of Port Royal.”  In Text-Aided Archaeology edited by B. J. Little 39-53.  Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Smith, W.C. 1991. “Radiography at Port Royal.”  INA Newsletter 17(2):11-13.

Thornton, D. 1991. “A Tour of a Port Royal House.”  INA Newsletter 18(1):7-9.

Clifford, S.A. 1991 “A Preliminary Report on a Possible 17th-century Shipwreck at Port Royal, Jamaica.” In Underwater Archaeology Proceedings from the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference. Richmond, Virginia 1991 edited by J.D. Broadwater, 80-83. The Society for Historical Archaeology.

Hamilton, D. L. 1991.  “A Decade of Excavations at Port Royal, Jamaica.” In Underwater Archaeology Proceedings from the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, Richmond, Virginia, 1991 edited by J.D. Broadwater, 90-94. The Society for Historical Archaeology.

Clifford, S.A. 1991. “The Port Royal Ship.”  INA Newsletter 17(2):8-10. College Station: Institute of Nautical Archaeology.

Schoeder, E. K. 1990.  “Spatial Patterns at Port Royal.”  INA Newsletter 17(2):14-15

Hamilton, D. L. 1988.  “INA Enters the SHARPS Era.”  INA Newsletter 15(2):6-7.

Hunter, C. 1987.  “Bones Offer Clues to Everyday Habits.”  INA Newsletter 14(1/2):14.        .

Hamilton, D. L. 1986.  “The City Under the Sea.”  In Science Year 1986, 92-109. Chicago: World Book Inc.

Hamilton, D. L. 1986.  “Port Royal Revisited.” In Proceedings of the Fourteenth Conference on Underwater Archaeology edited by C.R. Cummings, 73-81. San Marino, CA: Fathom Eight.

Hamilton, D. L. 1984.  “Preliminary Report on the Archaeological Investigations of the Submerged Remains of Port Royal, Jamaica, 1981-1982.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 13:11-25.

Hamilton, D.L. and R. Woodward. 1984. “A Sunken 17th-Century City: Port Royal, Jamaica.” Archaeology 37:38-45.

Peterson, M.L. 1972. “Traders and Privateers Across the Atlantic: 1492-1733.”  In A History of Seafaring Based on Underwater Archaeology edited by G. F. Bass, 253-280.  London: Thames and Hudson

Steffy, J. R. 1988.  The Thirteen Colonies:  English Settlers and Seafarers.  In Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas: A History Based on Underwater Archaeology edited by G.F. Bass, 117-119.  New York: Thames & Hudson.

Several theses and dissertations have been written on Port Royal which contain exceptional drawings of the site and artifacts.  Below is a list of links which redirects to these resources.

Clifford, Sheila A.
1993  An Analysis of the Port Royal Shipwreck and its Role in the Maritime History of Seventeenth-Century Port Royal, Jamaica. Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Darrington, Glenn
1994  Analysis and Reconstruction of Impernanent Structures in the 17th and 18th Centuries.  Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Dewolf, Helen Catherine
1998  Chinese Porcelain and Seventeenth-Century Port Royal, Jamaica. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Donachie, Madeleine
2001  Household Ceramics at Port Royal, Jamaica, 1655-1692: The Building 4/5 Assemblage.  Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Franklin, Marianne
1992  Wrought-Iron Hand Tools in Port Royal, Jamaica: A Study Based Upon a Collection of the Tools Recovered from Archaeological Excavations and Listed in the Probate Records of Colonial Port Royal, c. 1692.  Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Fox, Georgia Lynn
1998  The Study of the Kaolin Clay Tobacco Pipe Collection from the Seventeenth-Century Archaeological Site of Port Royal, Jamaica.  Doctoral dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Gotelipe-Miller, Shirley
1990  Pewter and Pewterers from Port Royal, Jamaica: Flatware before 1692.  Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Hailey, Tommy Ike
1994  The Analysis of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-Century Ceramics from Port Royal, Jamaica, for Lead Release:  A Study in Archaeotoxicology.  Doctoral dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Heidtke, Kenan
1992  Jamaican Red Clay Pipes.  Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

McClenaghan, Patricia Elizabeth
1988  Drinking Glasses from Port Royal, Jamaica c.1630-1840:  A Study of Styles and Usuage. Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

C. Wayne Smith
1995  Analysis of the Weight Assemblage of Port Royal, Jamaica. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropoology, Texas A&M Universty, College Station.

Thornton, Diana
1992  The Probate Inventories of Port Royal, Jamaica.  Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Trussel, Timothy D.
2004  Artifacts of Ambition: How the 17th-century Middle Class at Port Royal, Jamaica, Forshadowed the Consumer Revolution.  Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Wadley, Catheryn Ann
1985  Historical Analysis of Pewter Spoons Recovered from the Sunken City of Port Royal, Jamaica.  Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

Winslow, Debora
2000  Analysis of the Holloware Pewter from Port Royal, Jamaica. Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station.

For a complete list of INA Projects see more.

ABOVE: Chad Gulseth with one of the recovered onion bottles (Photo: INA).

PHOTO GALLERY