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Artifact Description

A total of 565 intact seeds and fragments derived from the ROV’s SeRF system was recovered, examined and catalogued from the “Tortugas” site. The species type identifications were re-confirmed in 2012 by Victor Vankus, Southern Region Native Plant Coordinator, USDA Forest Service, National Seed Laboratory, Georgia. These provide little more than a flavor of the site’s total archaeobotanical collection. Following the pattern of plant and food remains deposition observed on the Emanuel Point shipwrecks, more substantial material is likely to be preserved among and under the ballast stones in the lower hull, which was not excavated on the “Tortugas “site. Positive identification was not always feasible given the fragmentary condition of much of the “Tortugas” material.

The presence of fruit and nuts aboard the “Tortugas” ship is not surprising in light of the devastating effects of disease now known to be scurvy. While sailors had only limited knowledge about this fatal disease, by at least 1620 the condition was understood to be connected to diet and sea travel. Sailors were conscious that fresh provisions were somehow linked to the prevention of sickness, and fruits and nuts were considered especially beneficial for long journeys. Recognizing their nutritional value, these hearty edibles were often added to official provisions, enhancing an otherwise bland diet.

A number of seeds belong to the Prunus genus of plants, including intact specimens of peach and the cherry family. Also present are endocarp that appear to be almonds, Prunus dulcis, as well as fragments of plum seeds that are flatter in shape than peaches, in particular, were amongst the earliest fruits shipped to the Americas by Spain and introduced into Mexico in the early 16th century; less than 50 years after Cortez conquered the country, peach trees were common regionally. Historical records indicate that the peach was procured for cultivation at the failed Luna colony in Pensacola in 1559, and that peach trees were brought to Florida by the Spanish to St. Augustine not long after.

 The most prevalent seed type recovered from the “Tortugas” wreck was a hard, round, woody palm nut from one of the species in the Arecaceae palm family, most examples of which were intact. These may have functioned as raw material for carving beads. Certainly in the late 17th century this raw material was used for palm-crafted rosaries, examples of which are associated with the Atocha. Two intact and many fragmented examples of a second type of palm nut were also recorded.

The recovery of 175 olive pits from the "Tortugas" wreck reflects the centrality of olives and olive oil in the Spanish diet palate. The olives pits can be subdivided generally into two sizes, the smaller approximately 1cm in diameter and the larger approximately 1.5cm in length (with maximum lengths for some examples of 2.0cm), suggesting the consumption of two types of shipboard olives onboard the "Tortugas" ship. One intact hazelnut was recovered alongside further fragments, as well as a single grape seed. One example of a burr could have been matted into the hair of either a human or animal host or could have attached itself to clothing or other material.


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