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University of Cadiz Uncovering Late 16th Century Shipwreck in Getares

Rosario Pérez · Photos: Fran Montes

A team of underwater archaeologists from the University of Cadiz dive into a Genoese shipwreck dating back to the sixteenth century in Getares, Algeciras

“We cannot talk underwater, so the archaeologist who comes up to the surface needs to clearly explain to those who are about to go down what he has been doing during his dive, in order to ensure continuity.”.

Felipe Cerezo, professor of Underwater Archaeology at the University of Cadiz (UCA), together with his colleague, Algeciras-born archaeologist Raúl González Gallero, are responsible for carrying out research projects for UCA in the Bay of Algeciras, which began in June 2017.

University of Caidz, 16th Century Ship

At the Getares inlet, in the La Ballenera area, lies a Genoese shipwreck that researchers have found to date back to the late 16th century, filled with a cargo of crockery and various products which are being recovered, as well as cannonballs of various sizes and even paperweights that would have been used to hold down nautical charts.

Apart from the project’s importance generally, with some artefacts to be displayed Provincial Museum of Cadiz –and others to be exhibited in Algeciras – this project also provides practical training for students of the Master of Nautical and Underwater Archaeology course at UCA: a one year long course that, according to its promoters, is a pioneer nationally, and offers field practices to 23 of its students, who must have diving qualifications.

“Not only do we have students from all around Spain, but also from many other different countries, with many coming from South America… You need to bear in mind there are only three master’s degrees like this one in the world; one in the United States, one in England and another in France. Ours is the only one delivered in Spanish,” says Felipe Cerezo.

During these courses, each of which lasts three weeks, tutors and students live on board the UCadiz, a research vessel of the CEI-MAR (the International Campus of Excellence of the Sea), which was once a fishing vessel.

University of Cadiz, UCadiz Ship

Now, after its restoration and adaptation, it is used for scientific purposes throughout the year. In addition to Underwater Archaeology, the vessel is also used for other types of oceanographic research: Marine Biology, Ecology and Environment, Geology etc… The University of Cadiz is the only university in Spain that owns its own ship. “Other universities have to work with the means provided by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, or even Navy ships and other entities willing to collaborate,” Cerezo explains.

As for the old merchant ship buried between two rock slabs on the bottom of La Ballenera – which may have protected part of its structure from the ravages of the sea and the passage of time – Cerezo and González Gallero believe that there are still many more discoveries to be made.

Genoese Shipwreck, 16th Century, Getares, Algeciras

“It is a Genoese shipwreck that was discovered in 1984 by Manuel Martín Bueno, one of the pioneers of Underwater Archaeology in Spain, from which some artefacts had already been extracted. What we are finding now, while documenting the surface, leads us to believe that we may have found the area where the captain’s cabin was.”

Every day the UCadiz sets sail for the Getares inlet, where it anchors, and the dives take place. These are done in one-hour shifts, with the students divided into two groups. The ship returns to the Saladillo dock between 3 and 4 p.m., and other tasks are carried out: compiling the paperwork, processing the photos, preventive conservation of the materials, inventory… Around 7 p.m. the intense workday finally comes to an end.

Genoese Shipwreck, 16th Century, Getares, Algeciras

Convinced that the pieces found are part of “a heritage that belongs to Algeciras and that it must be known and shared”, those responsible for the project have taken advantage of this campaign to publicise its results, with talks and guided visits to this peculiar underwater site, in collaboration with the Caetaria Diving Centre and the Spanish Federation of Underwater Activities (FEDAS)

A team of underwater archaeologists from the University of Cadiz dive into a Genoese shipwreck dating back to the sixteenth century in Getares, Algeciras

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