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Square-Sectioned Bottle Fragments

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Artifact Description

A total of 127 fragments of glass were excavated from the “Tortugas” shipwreck, including square-sectioned case bottles. The bases of these bottles are all medium olive green in color and contain air bubbles. Glass rims and neck sherds were recovered still attached to 14 lead screw collars and caps that originally sealed some of the “Tortugas” ship’s bottle mouths. Data suggests a minimum presence of 16 square-sectioned bottles on the ship.

The square-sectioned bases derive from what would later become called case bottles that were common throughout Europe and the Americas. The term comes from the fact that square-sided bottles were particularly developed for packing in wooden cases with compartments (cellarets) for oceanic voyages. Such bottles primarily contained spirits which were essential in the 17th century when natural water supplies were considered infectious and alcohol was taken for medicinal purposes. However, as with most bottles of the era, after being emptied the bottles were often reused for different products, which may have been the case on the return voyage of the “Tortugas” ship.

The “Tortugas” bases are part of a square-molded bottle type that was seemingly first produced in Germany in the last quarter of the 16th century. Similar bottles dating from 1570-1600 were also manufactured in the glasshouses of Bohemia and Belgium. The typically green glass form was subsequently introduced into the Rotterdam area of the Netherlands, which began manufacture on a large scale in the 17th century as the country evolved into Europe’s major shipping center.

Especially significant for the case of the “Tortugas” shipwreck are the identical glass bottle bases and lead bottle caps associated with the lower hull of the Atocha. As in the case of the “Tortugas” wreck, square-sectioned bottles are the most common glasswares aboard the Atocha. The Margarita wreck site also yielded a number of bottle closures comparable to the “Tortugas” examples, evidence that the same products were aboard this ship as well. As part of the same Spanish fleet lost in the Florida Keys during the hurricane of September 1622, this parallel evidence may start to question the common assumption that square bottles were of largely Dutch or English manufacture. In light of the fleet’s near-total cultural preference for goods made in Seville, as demonstrated by the ceramic record, this subject requires further research. In reality, very little has been written about the wider European straight-sided and square-sectioned bottles that preceded the emergence of globular forms c. 1650.

Similar glasswares have been excavated from other Spanish shipwrecks. An intact square-sectioned green bottle was stocked on the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, sunk off Hispaniola in 1641. Pewter caps from square-sectioned bottles were recovered from the San Martin, the Almiranta of the Honduras fleet en route from Havana to Spain in 1618, and were still in use a century later on the 1715 fleet wrecked off Florida. On the basis of this evidence, is it reasonable to propose that one line of lead-capped square bottles conceivably may have been manufactured in Spain, mirroring in glass the overwhelming dominance of Seville wares amongst the “Tortugas” ceramics.

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