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Organic Beads

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Artifact Description

The 26 intact and 12 fragmentary carved wood beads of undetermined species from the “Tortugas” wreck are largely of simple spherical design. Larger spherical examples with a hollow interior (five intact and 15 fragments) appear to have been produced from a palm nut. Several beads are more intricately carved barrel and conical examples with rows of raised ribbing at both ends. Similar examples strung on a rosary with a gold medallion recovered from the Atocha have been identified as ebony.

The “Tortugas” assemblage includes 27 largely intact and eight fragments of undecorated small spherical beads, which bear some resemblance to ivory, bone or possibly a seed product. These round beads are mainly brown with cream-colored eroded patches. They are comparable to examples from the Atocha, which are thought to be ivory or bone rosary beads. The smallest organic bead examples recovered from the “Tortugas” wreck resemble examples produced from seeds.

Some of the “Tortugas” wreck’s organic beads produced from palm nuts appear similar to those described by John Esquemeling in his Buccaneers of America of 1684. Citing the various palm species on the island of Hispaniola, he referred to the “Palma a Chapelet” (rosary-palm), whose hard, small seed was “very fit for making rosaries or beads to say prayers upon”. A total of 261 whole or fragmentary palm seeds, some seemingly bored, were recovered from the “Tortugas” wreck. It is difficult to determine their function aboard ship unless they were raw material intended for future rosary bead production in Spain.


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