Two decades after its discovery, and almost 200 years after it shipwrecked in the coral reefs of Chinchorro Bank in the Mexican Caribbean, the identity of The Ángel shipwreck emerges from the depths. It`s a sailboat that, because of the characteristics of the materials used in its construction, its naval architecture, and the cargo transported, place it as an early 19th-century merchant vessel identified as an English brig called Jean, which sailed in the area at a time of great commercial traffic. This document addresses some of the research subjects, technical processes and methodology used in its archaeological record that led in the identification of this wreck and helped to establish its origin and chronology, the navigation routes at the time, and the possible causes that generated the shipwreck.


The Chinchorro Bank Biosphere Reserve, considered a cultural and natural heritage of the humanity in the Mexican Caribbean, shelters immersed in its crystalline waters and pristine underwater landscapes, an archaeological catalogue related to maritime accidents spanning five hundred years of navigation history in the area. Among these vestiges are merchant sailboats and warships from the time of the discovery and conquest of the New World, steamships emanating from the industrial revolution using one or two boilers driven by powerful bronze propellers, to large and modern freighters from today among other isolated artefacts of nautical origin.

Within this archaeological legacy, considered this nation’s cultural heritage by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the governmental agency responsible for the study and protection of the cultural and historical heritage of the country, is El Ángel (The Angel) wreck, which is currently under study and protection of the Vice-Directorate of Underwater Archaeology (SAS), which is the INAH branch in charge of the preservation, protection and dissemination of cultural resources submerged in the Mexican territory and coastlines.

            The Angel wreck was reported to the National Institute of Anthropology and Historyi n the year 2004 by Octavio Del Río, but it is until now, thanks to the historical sources supported by the archaeological record of the elements that make up the wreck, that it has been established that it corresponds to the brig of English origin named Jean , built in Scotland at the beginning of the 19th century, and destined to British Honduras (today Belize) as a merchant vessel, reported as lost in 1839 (Pérez, 2015, cited in Carrillo and Zucollotto, 2018).Today, thanks to exploration and archaeological research, now it’s known it lies twelve meters deep, south of Chinchorro Bank. We also know important aspects of its naval architecture and possible causes that produced this shipwreck which reinforces the historical value of the area for the compression of navigation and maritime trade routes in this period and particular geographic area.

As part of the objectives of the research of the site, a plan of the archaeological context that composes the site was elaborated, with the disposition of the elements found on the sea-bed and those that are related to the excavations ca-rried out. Different structural components were identified and the relationship and function of these in their naval architecture; also, some of the materials used in its construction, as well as the possible causes of its sinking.

In this sense, different lines of research were generated for the integral study of the context of which the site is formed, as well as aspects regarding its conservation and protection that allow determining the actions to be taken based on the conditions in which it is found, and the possible factors of affectation that could be affecting it currently and those that could be generated in the future. On the other hand, the use and assessment of digital technologies, and the generation of 3D models as an archaeological record method have shown that they allow, in addition to accurate and reliable site plans, to provide a database for the study and future conservation in a virtual way of the submerged archaeological heritage.

At the time of the presentation of this advance in the research and, although there is still much to discover, the conclusions so far have yielded important results, given the implications for the knowledge of the cultural legacy that lies in the Chinchorro Bank Biosphere Reserve, World Heritage Site. The immersions in the archives and on the site continue, as well as the struggle for the preservation of this historical le-gacy of the country and the natural resources it houses and inhabits in its remains

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Description of the study area

Chinchorro Bank is located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, 30.8 km east of its closest point to the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, between 18 – 47′ / 18 – 23’N and 87 – 14′ / 78 – 27’W (Fig. 1). It is considered an interoceanic coral atoll made up of coral reefs recognised as biomes with enormous biological diversity of great relevance as a natural resource. It is the largest reef system in Mexico with 814.2 km2 total area, including the reef lagoon and reef crest(González et al., 2003).

Figure 1. Archaeological sites location map, SAS/INAH. Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve is located at the south-eastern edge of the State of Quintana Roo in the Mexican Caribbean, at 30.8 km from its closest point from the East coast of the Yucatan peninsula. The Angel site wreckage is nearby Cayo Lobos at the south tip of Banco Chinchorro. Google / INEGI, 2019.


Chinchorro Bank is an atoll-like reef off the southern Caribbean versant of Mexico. The contour of the atoll is formed by a circumferential reef barrier of 115 km of perimeter formed by the growth of coral colonies. It measures 43.26 km in length by 18.03 km of width. It has a south-north bathymetric gradient with edge reefs of more than 50 m deep on the western slope (leeward), and an active coral growth that protrudes from the surface in the eastern band (windward) where the waves break (Borges, 2011).

This isolated and primitive ecosystem is based on a rocky massif that dates from the Mesozoic period and on which, at the end of the Ice Age (about 12,000 years ago) the environmental conditions that allowed its development are generated (Borges, 2011). It is part of the Mesoamerican Reef System that runs along 1,000 km of extension from the coasts of Honduras, Belize and Guatemala in the southern portion, and from Xcalak to Cabo Catoche in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico (INE, 2000).


            The diversity of fauna in Chinchorro Bank includes numerous phyla, families, genera and ocanic species with at least 145 species of macroinvertebrates and 211 of vertebrates, in addition to 120 species of local and migratory birds (Camarena, 2003), some reptiles like the American Crocodile and innumerable plant species like grasses, algae and mangroves.

The coral taxocenosis (biological communities) is represented by hexacorals, octocorals and hydrozoa with 95 reported species, with the Acroporidae family being one of the most important since it contributes substantially to the growth of the reef structure. Two of its main representatives are the Acropora palmate, structures of flat and expanded branches resembling the horns of a moose, and Acroporacervicornis or staghorn coral. The greatest coral reef growth is present south of the windward zone (González et al., 2003).

One of the most striking attributes of Banco Chinchorro reef fish communities is their species diversity. The following species represented 75% of the total number of individuals: Thalassomabifasciatum(19.1%), Chromiscyanea(13.6%), Stegastespartitus(7.1%), Gramma loreto, Halichoeresgarnoti, Coryphopteruspersonatus (or hyalinus), S. planifrons, Acanthuruscoeruleus, Clepticusparrae,  Haemulonflavolineatum, C. multilineata,  G. melacara, Microspathodonchrysurus, Abudefdufsaxatilis, S. diencaeus, and Pempherisschomburgki(< 5.0% each). The highest species richness and fish density occurred in the reef-crest in the windward transition, in where the reef subzones are well developed (Loreto-Viruel, et al., 2003).

Given the richness of the biodiversity and ecosystems that it harbours, the area earned the title of Biosphere Reserve (1996) and as Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (RAMSAR) (2003) for the protection of wetlands and species that live there (INE, 2000). It is also one of the five core zones of the recently decreed Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve (2018) (Official Gazette of the Nation, 2018), and it is under the protection and custody of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP).


The interior of the barrier houses a shallow lagoon with depths ranging from 0.5 m to 2.5 m to the north, 3 to 7 m in the central part, and between 8 to 15 m to the south (Contreras, 2011) where there are several “patches” or shallow reef beds (Fig. 2). Within the lagoon four keys emerge: Cayo Norte, which is divided by a narrow water channel into two small islets, Cayo Centro, the largest with 4.5 km in length; here is the research station and operations centre of the CONANP (Fig. 3), as well as the stilt houses of the fishermen that live in the place in the fishing seasons, and to the south is Cayo Lobos, known for the wolf seals, now extinct, that used to live there. It is here, approximately 3 km northeast of Cayo Lobos inside the reef lagoon, where the remains of the The Angel wreck lie in the sea bed. (Fig. 1)

Figure 2.The south side of Chinchorro bank is characterized by the reef patches. About Two-thirds of the archaeological sites registered are located in the southern part of the atoll, and almost the half of them are located southwest which, compared to its counterpart on the Northwest side, represent the total number of wrecks in the leeward band. Bathymetric Chart of Chinchorro Bank(García-Gil, et al, 2003) with superimposed maritime cultural sites locations (SAS/INAH).

Research background

Between the years 1960 and 1983, the Club of Explorations and Aquatic Sports of Mexico (CEDAM), made the first records and graphic reports of some of the wrecks in Chinchorro. Al-though these explorations lacked an adequate archaeological methodology, they were a first attempt to recognize and spread some of the maritime accidents that occurred at Chinchorro Bank. Later, in 1989, Pilar Luna, director of the SAS at that time, accompanied by a group of experts, tried to make the first visit to Chinchorro; however, the bad weather that prevailed in the area caused their withdrawal and refuge on land preventing any further exploration attempt in the area (Carrillo and Del Río, 2014).

It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that the SAS undertook the task to systematically investigate and record the archaeological legacy that lies in Chinchorro Bank, and thus, between 2001 and 2006, the author of this article and Eugenio Aceves, collaborators of the INAH, made the first archaeological incursions within the framework of the Special Projects and Attention to Informants, SAS / INAH, project which managed to verify and register 33 sites, among which is The Angel wreck, thus generating the first antecedents of the archaeological investigations that would come later.

Subsequently, in 2006, the project Inventory and Diagnosis of the Submerged Archaeological and Historical Heritage in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, Quintana Roo, SAS / INAH, was generated and under which the archaeological research has been continued in Chinchorro Bank since then up to date.

Within these projects, 69 sites have been registered so far related to accidents and maritime artefacts whose chronologies fluctuate from the 16th to the 20th century (Fig. 1). Of the recorded contexts, 42 are made up of the remains of stranded, sunken or grounded vessels, and 27 are isolated objects (anchors, artillery and various components of ships) whose chronologies also cover from the 16th to the 20th century. Among the 42 wrecks, there are 26 sailboats, 4 steamers, 1 tugboat, 6 modern merchant ships and 5 more whose propulsion system has not been determined (Carrillo, 2018). All are vestiges of boats and their contents that succumbed in the low reefs of Banco Chinchorro, of which now only vague indications of their uncertain past prevail.

The processes to unravel the enigmas that enclose these submerged sites, eroded by time, subject to the continuous onslaught of the wind, waves, and marine currents, takes years of work in which many disciplines converge in their study, being the archaeology the bastion of the investigation and registration of the sites. The researchers, in addition to submerging themselves in the water for the study of these contexts, also do so in the archives and manifests looking for any indication that could give some reference on the vessels that were shipwrecked in the area. Based on the archaeological records, they diagnose elements such as materials and naval architecture used in its construction, cargo and/or armament that it transported, propulsion mode, and any other indication that helps to establish the type and possible cultural affiliation of the archaeological context.

Figure 3. Natural Protected Area Commission (CONANP) research station, located in Cayo Centro. Photo by Del Río, O.

An Angel named Jean.

            During the field seasons carried out in Chinchorro between 2001 and 2006, verification visits to sites reported by local fishermen and guides were conducted, as well as prospecting of the sites that had reference derived from previous investigations. Such is the case of a map made by Román Rivera for the CEDAM, in which there are located twenty-two sites, of which twelve contain graphic records including an anchor with the name of El Ángel represented on the edge of a reef. According to the described location references, it was not possible to locate the anchor or anything associated with an archaeological site. The prospection continued following the perimeter of a large reef massif that extends over a sandy plain between ten and twelve meters deep. During the prospection, it was possible to identify the silhouette of a boat that emerged from the sea bed at a depth of 12 meters (Fig. 5). Until that moment there was no data or reference that talk about this shipwreck with the characteristics it presented, so it was considered a new discovery, thus giving rise to research and the first archaeological records of the wreck (Fig. 4).

Later, in 2013, it was possible to locate Manuel Polanco, a fisherman now inactive, who is so far the only person who gives references to the location of the wreck and who describes it punctually. Polanco mentions the encounter with the site in the 1980s’ during a fishing raid and having named it “Ángel” in reference to the captain who accompanied him, and also states that later, explorers and divers dredged and looted it; unfortunately, it has not been possible to corroborate by first-hand whether the site corresponds exactly to the one he describes, since up to now it has not been possible to take him to his reencounter with it.

Historical references in manuscripts.

The historical sources supported by the archaeological records allow us to infer that The Angel wreck corresponds to a brig of Scottish origin named Jean. It is a double-rigged sailboat with square sails, with a registration date of April 14, 1819, built in the port of Irvin, Scotland, by the company “Gilkison, Thomson & Co, Irvine” for the company “Ship Allan Line”. Jean was the first ship  this shipping line, had a carriage of 169 tons, a length of 76’8″ (23.87 m), sleeves 22’6″ (6.84 m), and a depth (vertical distance from the superior cover to the bilge) of 13’4 ” (4.06 m) (Scottish Built Ships, 2019). The British insurer Lloyd’s registers it as a merchant ship bound for British Honduras, now Belize, under the command of Captain J. Gillies and Master J. Gram, and reports it as lost in 1837 while traveling to Mobile, Alabama, placing it south of “North Triangles”(Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, 1836-1837), name given by the English to Banco Chinchorro in the 18th century.

The characteristic mixed naval architecture of the ship; a wooden hull with an interior iron structure frame and covered with Muntz sheathing (Hull & Stores, type AE1; Lloyd’s Register), are distinctive technologies of shipbuilding used by the English until the middle of the 19th century (Bingeman et al., 2007), which point to a transitional moment between the use of wood and metal prior to the emergence of iron ships, and in the area given the load it carried, to a period of commercial boom because of the exploitation of palo de tinte (dyewood) (Haematoxylumcampechianum), an arboreal species endemic to Southern Mexico and northern Central America exported to Europe and North America for use in dyeing textile fabrics. This medium-sized vessel was used as a merchant ship to transport logs of dyewood, at least at the time of its sinking.

Figure 4. First archaeological record at The Angel site in 2004, SAS/INAH – CONANP. Photo: Acevez, E.


Figure 5. The Angel shipwreck. Over the seabed emerges, at 12 m deep, the silhouette and some of the elements that compound the archaeological context. At the bow section, the excavated area allows seeing the deposition of the vessel remains under the different strata until get to the interior planks of the hull. The iron structure that gives strength to the wooden hull is defined by the stem and breast hook at the bow. To the stern, the copper sheets barely emerge over the sand, enough to define the port and starboard bands. Photo: Del Río, O., SAS/INAH.

Historical context.

In 1507, an introduction to the Cosmography of Ptolemy published by the Academia del Vosgo that gathered the opinion of the Florentine navigator Américo Vespucio, confirmed what many European rulers already suspected: the lands that Christopher Columbus had reached in the west were a new and immense continent with enormous wealth.  This wealth was exploited by the Spanish crown until 1715, when the control of trade with America broke with the Treaty of Utrech, allowing European nations to finally settle in the Caribbean (Lucena, 2005).

As for Banco Chinchorro, the Spaniards are the first navigators to map the area. In 1544, Sebastián Caboto represents it in the cartography with the name of “quitasuegnos” (dreamcatcher), alluding to the risks involved in navigating in these waters (Fig.6). In documents of the beginning of the viceroyalty period in the New World from the 16th century, it tells how strong currents dragged the boats to Chinchorro, especially in the windward part where there was a bigger danger to  run aground in the barrier and lows of the interior lagoon.

Figure 6. Detail of the World Map from the Gulf of Mexico and Yucatan by Sebastián Caboto, 1544. “quitasuegno” is shown as it was known Chinchorro by the Spanish during the 16th century. National Library of Paris.

From the 18th century, the English lend particular interest in the area, and thanks to its naval power, empire in the area from then until the end of the 19th century. In 1775, Thos Jeffreys, Geo-grapher to His Majesty, mapped the geography and territories in the Bay of Honduras, where the English have political and commercial influence. In this cartography appears “el Chinchorro y the Northern Triangles”, referring to its location in the North of Honduras and the cays that emerge in the atoll’s interior (Fig. 7).

Later, between 1831 and 1836, Charles Darwin navigates the area aboard the brig Beagle as part of a second scientific expedition from the United Kingdom to the southern coasts of South America (FitzRoy, 1839), at which time he classifies Chinchorro as a “false atoll” to be of calcareous origin and not of volcanic origin (Darwin, 1842).

Commerce and navigation in the Caribbean

During the 19th century, vessels entering the ports in Southeast Mexico and the Gulf Coast from Europe and the United States, came out with a single merchandise: “palo de tinte” (dyewood/logwood) (Barrera and Gutiérrez, 1995). Sailboats exported large quantities of this tree to North America, mainly to the ports of New York, New Orleans and Mobile, and to Europe to Liverpool, Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, Genoa, Marseille, Le Havre, Bordeaux and Queenstown among others, and to some Caribbean islands such as Kingstown, Havana, and Santo Thomas (Contreras, 1990).

The trade of this wood, already known as dyeing material by the pre-Hispanic Maya (huites), was exploited throughout the viceroyalty period in Campeche, Yucatan and Belize (where it is endemic) until the second half of the 19th century. It became the most important export product in the Yucatan peninsula, which defined the region’s socioeconomic development (Barrera and Gutiérrez, 1995). The industrialised process of this thorny tree up to 12 m high, introduced the way to extract from the logwood a variety of colours ranging from an intense red to a blue-violet, mainly used by European nations, in particular France, England and Holland, famous for their textile industry (Contreras, 1990).

Control of the territory and commercial routes.

Throughout the conquest of Mexico and until the mid-19th century, much of what is now known as Quintana Roo and Belize was a rebel territory par excellence, refuge of Mayan groups, who resisted against the Spanish rules (Taracena, 2013), besides being a base for pirates, buccaneers, corsairs and filibusters who became prosperous “exploiters and exporters” of the valuable palo de tinte(dyewood), also known as palo de Campeche (Campeche logwood) (Iglesias, n/d).

The pirate attacks, which took refuge in the Caribbean islands not controlled by the Spaniards or in lands of the nascent Belize, continue during the viceroyalty until the mid-19th century, which suggests that the wreck of The Angel may have also been the result of an attack to seize its valuable merchandise on its way to North America and Europe.

Shipbuilding: Transformation processes.

Nautical archaeologists are often interested in understanding the transition periods in shipbuilding to better conceptualise the changes in the hull’s shape, the construction procedures and the social communities that surrounded some of the most complex machines ever built: ships, as explained by Morgan and Cormac, (2017a). Some research questions that must be answered relate to how the development of shipbuilding led to ships being able to make transoceanic voyages, and the factors in the construction and naval architecture that made it possible.

One of the periods of change was the beginning of modern globalisation when the ships of the late 15th and 16th centuries crossed the main oceans and interacted with different geographies, peoples and cultures. Thus, Naish (1958) cited by Morgan and Cormac (2017b) in Speed under Sail, 1750-1830, states that at the beginning of the 18th century the European sailboat was a mature technology and most of the later improvements, except copper cladding of the hulls were incremental (Morgan, 2017).

Figure 7. Fragment of the Atlas of the West Indies by Thomas Jefferys (issued in 1775). The English nautical trading routes in the Bay of Honduras are represented with rhumb lines, marshland, anchorages and commercial ships tracks and ports along this geographical area, in which “el Chinchorro as the Northern Triangles” is shown. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

The transition from using wood in ships to solid iron was a gradual process that occurs exponentially in the late 18th century until the mid-19th century. Beginning in 1769, Gabriel Snodgrass, chief architect of the British East India Company -East India Company (EIC), generated some of the most important structural innovations of the late 18th century: ships with a single recessed cover that could be made waterproof when closing the hatches, and which were much more resistant than traditional European designs (Snodgrass, 1797, cited in Morgan and Cormac, 2017a). Later, the strength of the hulls increased even more by doubling the thickness of the planks and making the sides vertical instead of leaning inwards, and replacing some structural components, such as oak beams, with iron used to attach the covers to the hulls, strengthening and making them more rigid (Morgan and Cormac, 2017b).

As the 19th century progressed, larger quantities of iron were used in Europe to reinforce wooden hulls, especially in implementing diagonal braces placed between the ribs. As a relevant aspect, in the year 1818, the year prior to the construction of Jean, Lloyd’s Shipment Register, observed for the first time structural reinforcements of iron in the boats, and by 1830, it is reported that around 20 to 25 % of boats use iron (Morgan and Cormac, 2017b).

It was from the industrial revolution, when the shipbuilders introduced iron and steel as reinforcement in the construction of wooden boats. The sails were eventually replaced with steam engines and by 1819, in the year of Jean’s construction the steam maritime navigation started and by 1839, the propellers had already replaced the paddle wheels on steamboats as a means of propulsion, technology that allowed to cross the Atlantic in less than twenty days (Zabala, 1998). The Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built in the United Kingdom in 1843, was the first ship built entirely of wrought iron.

The Angel, a model of transition in shipbuilding.

The naval construction of The Angel, now Jean wreck, combines successfully proven processes in the past in terms of displacement and manoeuvrability in ships of brigantines or brigs, with innovative contributions such as the use of iron for structural reinforcement, intending to procure greater resistance, rigidity and stability. These adjustments could have been for a specific purpose

for the transport of cargo for which it was designed, or else, they were adjustments that occurred during the useful life of the ship. The Angel is a protagonist in this transition and an important source for the study of these processes.

 Archaeological context.

            The Angel is located at the southern end of Banco Chinchorro nearby Cayo Lobos. It lies submerged 12 m deep next to a coral massif that grows up to 1.2 m below the surface. On this reef there are scattered in the sea-bed some artefacts possibly associated with this boat, which could indicate that this is where it gets stuck, causing its sinking.

On the seabed, with the bow facing north, the silhouette of the vessel is defined by the curvature of the breast hook that stands one meter out from the bottom. In the interior, within the area that includes the starboard/port bow tacks, other metal structural elements are located, like part of the action and fixation mechanism of the anchor like the chain and probably what it could be components of the windlass, and the anchor itself. From here, barely emerged from the seabed the port and starboard bands that run parallel on south direction, reaching 9 m in breadth and 35 m in length at the stern delimited by two mounds of ballast stone. Some riggings, two metal containers and other elements are perceptible on the bottom; the rest of the boat is under the sediment (Fig. 8).

Description of the elements that emerge from the sea bed:

The Bow section

The prow is defined by the curved outline of the breast hook that with some other iron elements like stanchions encompasses the entire section of the bow. This structure was placed in the interior of the hull and fastened to the timbers placed across the stem to strengthen the fore part of the ship.

Figure 8. Othographic plan obtained from the 3D model of The Angel wreck. Model process: Del Río, O., SAS/INAH – ArqSubMx, 2017.

The breast hook protrudes over up to one    meter from the seabed, is of rectangular section with 15 cm of amplitude and 12 cm of thickness and with rounded edges. It outlines, moderately rounded, the curvature of the rail to port and starboard on  both  sides of  the bow,  until  converging with the position of the stem at the front of the vessel. Possibly it was fixed to this element, giving greater stability and reinforcement before the onslaught of the swell. From here they are distributed, following the curvature of the bow towards both bands, some structural elements that, like metal frames, give structural support to the boat and on which it was fixed with copper bolts, some still in its original position, the wooden structure that today is just preserved under the seabed.

Towards the bow section, there are three circular metal elements of 1 m diameter each, two of which have an outer edge like a gear of 10 cm thickness, so it could be part of a double drum windlass associated with a pair of chain segments and the anchor that, because of its position in the bow, could have been a bower anchor. There is the possibility that these metallic and heavy elements could have been on the main deck, and once the boat submerged, due to environmental processes – physical, chemical and the action of biological organisms – would contribute to their disintegration by filtering the deposition of these elements until reaching their current position on the interior bottom of the vessel.

Outside the area that delimits the bow towards the north, there is a set of structural metal elements that could be components of the bowsprit, stem and some copper sheets that cover the hull which possibly settled in this place during the processes of transformation and deposition of the shipwreck in the seabed (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. The prow is defined by the curved outline of the breast hook that with some other iron elements encompasses the entire section of the bow. It protrudes over up to one meter from the seabed. Photo: Del Río, O. SAS/INAH.

The Anchor

            The anchor is of the Admiralty type and is found at the seabed level immediately after the metallic elements that emerge in the bow described above. It is seated on a small layer of sand that barely covers the interior lining of the boat at this section of the bow.

It measures 2.60 m from the crown that have a sharp end, to the head at the end of the shank, which have a square section of 20 cm in thickness at the ends and 15 cm in its narrowest part at the center. It has two rounded perforations of 10 cm in diameter each; one where the stock was lodged and the other, the most distal one, where the shackle/ring used to go, both non-existent. The arms are curved and 1.80 m wide at the tip of the flukes, which are triangular with a base of 37 cm and lateral edges of 42 cm. (Fig. 10)

Figure 10. Admiralty anchor type with adhered coral concretions. Due to its position in the bow and association with the chain, it could be the bower anchor. Photo: Del Río, O.

Copper alloy sheet (Muntz)

The profile of the boat is defined by some elements that barely emerge from the sand at the bottom, among them, sheets of copper alloy that run the entire length of the boat at a distance of 9 meters between both bands (breadth) to reach 35 m in the stern. These were used as an anti-fouling coating to protect the wood in the underwater hull structure from the attack of mollusks and crustaceans such as Teredonavalis sea worms, elongated organisms that perforate the wood affecting its structural support.

There are reports of the use of this coating in Asia and Europe since the 17th century (Bingeman et al., 2018), but it is the English, who since 1761 and throughout the 19th century, industrialized it in large quantities for its use in ships of the navy and merchant marine.

The continuous development of metallurgy and the search for improvements in the efficiency and durability of the material, and to reduce the cost of production, favoured the generation of several patents and licenses for its manufacture. Each sheet contained a brand or stamped stamp that identified its manufacturer. The registered trademark in the The Angel wreck corresponds to George Frederick Muntz, a manufacturer and metal rolling (metal-roller) of Birmingham, England, who gets the patent and with it its commercialization in the year 1832 (Bingeman, 2018), the point at which the hull of the vessel could have been coated and the shipwreck generated. After successful experimentation with the coating, Muntz also got a patent for bolts of the same composition. These were also successful, since not only were cheaper but also very strong and had a lifespan of over twenty years (Bingeman, 2007).

In 1861, a prestigious English metallurgist named John Percy, reports that the sheets of the so-called Muntz metal or yellow metal, with a composition of 60% copper and 40% zinc, provided greater advantages compared to other proposals, maintaining the funds cleaner, generating improvements in the displacement and with lower manufacturing costs. Subsequently, the mixture 60: 40% was replaced by a composition of 63:37% Cu – Zn, which could be cold rolled in thinner layers reducing its processing cost (Bingeman, 2018). Because of its wide acceptance, its use lasted for the rest of the 19th century, displacing other manufacturers. Subsequent analyses of the composition of the copper sheets in The Angel wreck could bring a closer approach about when the hull of the vessel was coated with this material.

The Muntz stamp on The Angel copper sheets was located at the upper right end of one of the sheets. It has a round shape with a diameter of 8 cm. It is made up of two concentric circles which inside the words MUNTZ’S and PATENT are stamped. In the centre stands the number 24, whose references indicate that this number corresponds to the weight in ounces per square foot of metal. It also contains the number 31 repeated on both sides, it is believed that this number could refer to the thickness of the sheet in thousands of inches, i.e. 0.031” or to an internal code of the manufacturer (Bingeman, 2018) (Fig. 11a).

Figure 11. a) Details of the Munt´z stamp found in the copper sheets. b) Copper nails that fasten them to the outside of the wooden hull of The Angel. Photographs: Zucollotto, A. and Del Río, O., SAS / INAH.

The sheet sampled in The Angel has a caliber of 1 mm and a width between 35 and 40 cm; the length has not yet been determined, but it can be inferred by references regarding the typical measurements of the Muntz 24-26oz, which measured 14 × 48 inches (1.219 × 0.3556 m) (Bingeman, 2018). The pattern of placement shows that each sheet was superimposed on each other at the ends and fixed to the outer side of the hull with 3.5 cm long copper nails. The nailing follows the contour of the perimeter in a linear and continuous pattern

between 1.8 and 2.5 cm apart, and obliquely or diagonally in the interior with up to 3 cm of separation from each other (Fig. 11b).

Ballast stone.

In the south end, delimiting the area of the context towards the stern, there are two mounds of ballast stone. Each mound is approximately 2 x 3 m in area and up to 1.2 m in height regarding the sea-bed. They are located parallel to each other and separated by a sand channel up to 1.5 m in amplitude. Apparently, the stones were stacked there by human intrusion after their shipwreck in an attempt to reach the bottom possibly in search of some vestige of “value”, which should have required a great effort given the volume of up to 0.15 m3 of some stones and the weight that this represents (Fig. 12).

Figure 12. Ballast stone and biodiversity that grow and inhabit on it. Photo: Del Río, O., SAS / INAH.

Natural context

The remains of The Angel allow the generation of a rich and diverse ecosystem. Several species of coral, fish, mollusks and all kinds of marine life reproduce and inhabit the remains that make up the site. Adhering to some metal parts of the structure, the corals develop in communities of different sizes, shapes and colours that help define the contour of the wreck. These attract other organisms generating an ecosystem of exceptional beauty and natural wealth. The Angel wreck forms a symbiosis between biodiversity and culture that generates a unique context, which is invaluable and significant as a natural and cultural heritage.

Archaeological record: methodology and materials.

As part of the research process, the contextual recovery of the site is carried out through the detailed archaeological record of the components that comprise it. The structure of the ship represents one of the units of analysis related to naval architecture, which are very important because of the information they can generate about the constructive technology of the moment and the socio-cultural factors in which they were used.

A methodology was established that allowed the elaboration of a plan of the site advancing in a systematic way in its elaboration and with the record of the disposition of the elements that emerge on the sea-bed. This methodology also covers the deposition of those elements that are linked to the excavations carried out, to enable the generation of data for the study and analysis of the site from areas of action that could be addressed in the present or in the future, as well as in the proper interpretation of the processes of the site formation and the agents that act in its transformation.


  • The systematic generation of a site plan with the spatial location of the elements that make up the archaeological context.
  • Contribute to the interpretation of its nautical architecture and the different aspects of the design and construction materials used.
  • Identification and analysis of the different structural components based on their location and correlation with other elements, and the different compounds and patterns used in their fixation.
  • Help in the interpretation of the possible causes that caused its sinking.
  • Interpret on the basis of the deposition, the processes of the site formation and the possible moment of equilibrium.
  • Determine the current level of integrity, and the possible causes that could affect it now and in the future.
  • Generate a database whose study helps establish the appropriate guidelines for the conservation and protection of the site, as it is to improve the legal aspects that protect it.

Site plan development

Origin point “Datum” and baseline

For the elaboration of the site plan, a point of origin or “datum” was initially established, which was geo-referenced with GPS on the surface. The datum was positioned over the breast hook in a point that coincides with the highest point over the seabed, and where the port and starboard sides converge on the stem. It is located at 11 m depth and one meter above the seabed. Here the level +/- 0.0m was established from which the baseline departed with a deviation of 6 ° with respect to the north bearing, which travels from steam to stern along the length of the vessel on the centre line, dividing it into two equidistant halves the beam of the boat. Following the horizontal level (+/- 0.0m), the baseline finds the seabed at 26.4 m from the point of origin (datum); here the bottom continues to lose depth until reaching +0.40 cm at 35 m distance from the point of origin. (Fig. 13a)

Figure 13a. The Angel site map, aerial view and cross section. Actualized November 2018. Del Río, O. SAS/INAH.

Because of tidal dynamics, the sediment accumulates on the wreck increasing in thickness towards the south, going from 12 m depth at the bow, to 10.5 m at the stern at a covering distance, from North to South of 35.5m of the length of the boat.

Figure 13b. Details of the planking and fixing components at the bow section of the site. Site plan figure 13a details section. Drawing: Del Río, O.

Cartesian coordinate system

With the baseline as a reference, a Cartesian grid of 2 m2 was established for the record of the site, which also served for defining controls references in the bottom that helps to position a second movable grid of 1 m2 with quadrants of 10 cm in areas were more detail was required.  These elements were used to record the materials exposed over the seabed in the bow section, and to defined the excavation area and the record of the materials covered by the sediment. (Fig. 14, 15)

Figures 14, 15. Aerial and perspective views of the grid placed over the archaeological context. Photo: Del Río, O., SAS/INAH.


Figures 14, 15. Aerial and perspective views of the grid placed over the archaeological context. Photo: Del Río, O., SAS/INAH.

Graphic record

The survey of the site plan was complemented with photographic and video records that allow the management of graphics databases that can be analyzed at any time. On the other hand, auxiliary techniques such as photogrammetry and the elaboration of photomosaics were incorporated as fundamental aspects in the support of the survey. The results generated with these techniques are extrapolated with the plans made, complementing a wide spectrum for the formal analysis of the results that contribute to a better contextualization and interpretation of the site. Thanks to these techniques, errors are reduced, storage is facilitated, and the preservation and dissemination of archaeological heritage are digitally assisted.

Processes for the generation of models (photogrammetry)

The Agisoft Photo Scan software was used for the extraction and stitching process of images obtained through the photogrammetry technique with which the 3D model of the wreck was created (Fig. 8). The software generates a cloud of points whose workflow is automated, extracting and comparing points with which textural triangular meshes are generated, enough to obtain a geometrically correct 3D   model. The algorithm is available within the software and allows a certain manual adjustment that allows refining the    resulting model.

The photographs were captured with a DSLR camera and processed in programs such as Photoshop and CorelDraw Graphics Suite X8 for the equalisation of colours, textures and brightness. For the elaboration of the photo mosaics, the use of a lens distortion corrector was also implemented, which allowed straightening horizons and scale to real parameters.

 Challenges faced in the generation of 3D models

Three of the greatest challenges in using this technique were:

  1. That because of the water clarity it creates that the refraction effects of the sunlight in the white sandy bottom, and the changes in brightness and light intensities caused by the waves on the surface, that previously adjusted parameters differ in the results given on each generated images, preventing that images and the overlap between them to not coincide with the selected exposures and adjustments.
  2. The optical distortions caused by the water and the camera, as well as the optical “noise” caused by the movement of the interference of objects such as small fish, soft corals and algae, and particles suspended in the water, affect the interpretation of the algorithm for the pairing and union of points in an automated way.
  3. Reflections, large sand extension or similar artefacts textures like wood planks and reef affect the extraction of points and the resulting triangular mesh, as well as the texture of the model.

Figures 16, 17. Screenshots taken at the bow section from the 3D model of the Angel . 3D model: Del Río, O.


Figures 16, 17. Screenshots taken at the bow section from the 3D model of the Angel . 3D model: Del Río, O.

 On-site intervention: excavation and record.

Except for the elements exposed on the surface over the seafloor, the rest of the remains abide under the sediment composed of small sandstones of calcareous origin, produced by the erosion of the coral and the organisms that inhabit it. As this stratum gains depth below the surface remains of larger shells, bivalves and dead coral settle to the bottom. The particles of finer-grained sand filter to the lower strata, covering the structure and cargo of the vessel.

Figure 18. Excavated area corresponding to the quadrants listed as C1, C2 and C3 that were considered for the analysis of the wreck deposition. Photogrammetry/photomosaic excavation area: Del Río, O., SAS/INAH.

Excavation polygons

Since much of the site remains unexcavated, three excavated areas corresponding to the quadrants listed as C1, C2 and C3 are considered for the analysis of the wreck deposition.

Quadrant one (C1) comprises an area of approximately 58 m2 of the bow section. It covers 8 m of distance from the datum of which the excavated area goes from meter 2.5 to 8, and covers the 8 meters of the breadth in this section. Within this area, it was possible to locate the keelson at 1.06 m distance to the port side regarding the baseline, and 2 m from the datum. With the exposed keelson, quadrants two and three (C2, C3) were arranged following the starboard line of the keelson timber. (Fig. 18)

Quadrant C2 corresponds to an excavation area of 1 m in amplitude by 5 m in length that covers from meter 6 to 11 with respect to keelson starboard line and the distance over the baseline from the datum. From this distance, a third quadrant (C3) of 2 m in amplitude and 5 m in length was proposed, which goes from meter 11 to 16 regarding the datum. At this distance, the overhang is 1.36 m from the baseline, opening from 1 to 2° from the bow towards the stern. To these excavations is added a test pit (P1) of 1 m2 located in the stern port quarter.

 Wreck deposition column.

Dyewood (Haematoxyloncampechianum).

Following the deposition of elements regarding the inner line of the keelson, the first layer of dyewood (palo de tinte) appears which was transported in trunks and branches in diameters between  15  to  35 cm, and cut with axes between 80 cm and 2 m in length,  and  with an estimated weight between 5 kg to 35 kg. Each section was stowed parallel to each other and longitudinally with respect to the length of the vessel. At the bow, the excavated stratum reaches 30 cm depth until it reaches the inner lining at the bottom of the vessel, allowing the overlap of up to two and three pallets of logwood in this section. Towards the stern, the excavated section reached 60 cm deep, allowing the superposition of up to five and six pallets of timber which apparently maintained their original position.

A layer of charcoal up to 10 cm thick was located below the logwood, a product of the burning and carbonisation of the bark of some trunks and branches. The logwood served as ballast, at least in the first two-thirds of the length of the boat, that beside the ballast stone mounds located at the stern, there is no more evidence of ballast stone, at least in the three excavated quadrants. Below the coal appear the strakes that make up the interior planking of the boat. (Fig. 19)

Figure 19. a) Overhead view of the logwood stowed longitudinally with respect to the length of the vessel. b) Cross section view; logwood stratigraphy/deposition. Photos: Del Rìo, O., SAS/INAH.


The sediment layer that covers the top of the keelson is only between 1 to 2.5 cm thick on the bow and just 12 cm at the end of the excavated section that goes along the center line in the stern’s direction up to meter 14 from the datum. This condition makes it vulnerable to the environment, exposing it to erosion and invasion of organisms, a situation that can be seen along the top edge of the 28 cm wide timber. Is composed of at least 4 timbers of different thicknesses superimposed and linked by means of bolts that fix them to each plank below that together are 47 cm thick. On the top face of the keelson, some concretions of between 1.5 and up to 3.5 m of separation can be seen that could correspond to some elements of iron fixation. So far it has not been possible to establish the total length of the top piece since no joints have been detected. This exposed segment of the keelson maintains relatively the same horizontal level in the bottom at +/- 11.9 m depth with respect to the water column. (Fig. 20).

Sister keel

Following the exposed lateral face of the keelson (starboard) along quadrants C2 and C3, the auxiliary keel was identified. This is 47 cm below the upper face of the keelson; it has an amplitude of 28 cm and 14 cm in the lateral canthus which protrudes from the level of the strakes at the bottom. Between meters 10.8 and 12.3 from the datum, there is a diagonal insert that joins this piece in two symmetrical parts (Fig. 20c). Next to this union is a 50 x 14 x 10 cm piece of wood that apparently was placed later as reinforcement in this section. Throughout this element, different concretions are observed that coincide with the iron fixing elements arranged in a line on the central axis of the beam.

Figure 20. Quadrant C3, keelson starboard side. a) Lateral view. b) Front view. c) Top view: tabled sister keelson joint/scarf is shown. Photos: Del Río, O., SAS/INAH.

Interior planking

The inner planking measures an average of 27 cm in width. They are fixed side by side with treenails of 25 to 30 mm in diameter and iron nails, of which some only remain in the wood, the square cavities of 10 to 12 mm thick where they were housed; others were identified by the concretions that cover them given the sulphation and corrosion of the material (Fig. 21).

Figure 21. Quadrant C1. Planking and keelson. Del Río, O.

The fixation pattern is complex; each plank is butted with respect to the adjoining one with iron nails and treenails apparently without following a regular pattern. It coincides that the iron fixing elements are placed near the edges of the planks, while the treenails have a more centric and continuous arrangement with respect to the width of the planks, arranged either individually or in pairs diagonally. In some cases, there is only left the nail countersunk that housed them.

Variations of this pattern occur particularly in the bow where there are bronze bolts with washers that fixed the planks to the floor-timber, frames and

beams located below the boards of the inner planking. Another peculiarity is the existence of metal fasteners with a cylindrical head (pegs) arranged linearly and perpendicular to the middle line; these are located at 15.35 m from the datum and could coincide with the vessel maximum breadth.

Structural components of wood.

In a sector of the starboard tack there is a collapsed section with disarticulated, fragmented and missing planks that leads to an opening of an average 2.33 m in length and 63 cm in width that exposed some structural components such as frames/futtocks, panting beams, possibly some floor-timbers and the outer planking at the bottom. The amplitude measures of the planks are in a range between 24.5 cm and 27 cm with thicknesses around 7.5 cm with square cavities of fasteners of 1.2 cm2, the nailing pattern has not yet been clearly identified.(Fig. 22)

Figure 22. Quadrant C1. Planks uncoupled letting see the structural components such as frames, panting beams and possibly some floor-timbers. Del Río, O. SAS/INAH

Under were the planking was in this section of the bow, pieces of paired timbers of quadrangular section and transversal arrangement with respect to the base line were exposed and is deduced that are still in its functional position. The timber segments have an amplitude range of about 23 cm and a thicknesses of 20 cm separated by a space of 39 cm. The relative structural regularity of the components observed denotes that the pieces observed are a constituent part of the framing system, the master couple seems to be formed with a floor timber (center) and a pair of first futtocks on each side. The frames assembly produced a continuous profile without lateral alternation of bonds, however, it is not possible to make greater inferences until a greater area could be excavated to be evaluated correctly the position of these components and to clearly identify what kind to the structure system do they belong to.

 Test pit

A 1×1 m and 80 cm deep test pit was excavated until some planks and metal elements were reached without being able to define what they were and the conditions in which they are. However, this allows defining the point where the remains of the vessel possibly extend below the sediment, at 35 m distance from the datum on the quarter port side (Fig. 13).


The archaeological context covers an approximate area of 315 m2 that includes the       collapse and the deposition of the port and starboard seated on both sides of the middle line hidden under the sediment. Even though it is considered that the excavation still does not reach 20% of the total wreck to discover, it is already possible to issue some considerations.

In the first place, regarding the foreseen objectives, the state of advance in the investigation can be offered:

  • The generation of the site plan with the spatial location of the elements that make up the archaeological context exposed on the surface has been completed almost in its entirety.
  • The identification and analysis of the different structural components corresponding to the excavated quadrants have already begun, identifying the correlation with other structural components based on their location, materials and patterns used in their fixation, as well as determining their current status.
  • The advance in the interpretation of the different aspects of the design and construction materials used and the possible causes that led to its founder is considerable, providing significant information as described above.
  • The interpretation based on the deposition, the processes of formation of the site, and the possible moment of equilibrium, is considered with an important advance.

Other appreciations to highlight include: 

  • According to the copper alloy sheet (Muntz), the detailed analysis of the mixture used may help delimit the moment when it was placed as a coating to protect the hull of the vessel.
  • With respect to the ballast stones, during the archaeological excavation they have only been found in the stern, which makes it possible to think that the logwood fulfilled the function of ballast, at least until the second third of the boat, distance where the dredging and excavations have been carried out so far, being the only ballast element that exists.
  • On the structural components of wood found in the bow, it is likely that its condition of disorganization is due to the fact that the wooden structure did not support the weight of the vessel before the onslaught of the tides and other natural agents that acted on the shipwreck, which caused it to collapse, disarticulating this section of the bow (Fig. 22). It should be noted that this section is larger regarding to its counterpart at the port side, being 5 and 2.8 m respectively, which allows interpreting that the ship was shipwrecked settling in the seabed on the port side until finally the remains collapsed reaching the current deposition and balance.
  • The Angel, that given the historical references and naval architecture could potentially be the Jean brig, combines diagnostic constructive characteristics of a period of technological evolution that is possibly implemented from the moment of its construction in 1819, with the use of iron as structural reinforcement, and adds other years later to its construction, such as hull planks coating with Muntz copper alloy sheets to avoid the invasion of the mollusks and shell inlays, and which are patented as of 1832.
  • The continuity in the excavation, recording and analysis of the elements that make up the structure, will help to define the constructive processes through which the vessel passes during its useful life. The naval architecture used that allowed its adaptation, and the relevance as a technological and revolutionary advance implemented in a period of a great boom for the British trade of logwood, apparently was worth the investment and adaptation of these technologies to prolong its performance and productivity, at least until the moment of its sinking in 1836.


It is evident at this level of research that the archaeological record and analysis of the structure of the ship represent a source of valuable information on naval architecture and the processes of change of moment, as well as the factors that could influence its founder and the site formation.

All these elements are indications that help in the interpretation of history and times in which this sailboat sailed in the area, the purposes and uses that were given, its possible origin and destination, as well as the potential causes that caused it to shipwreck on the site, among many other elements that help in the interpretation of these intricate maritime tragedies.

The continuity in the excavation works will allow to investigate the relation of the measures given by the construction of Jean with those of the found vestiges, and with this to corroborate if they correspond to those of this ship. In turn, now its known the total length and the centerline along the keelson, and with it the possible location of important structural components that are currently buried under the sediment in the stern section, such as the stern frame, the rudder and its fastening smithy, as well as the union to the keel and to the cockpit, revealing important aspects about the construction of this wreck that are still unknown today.

Future excavations on the transverse axis at the height of the maximum cross-section breadth, and with the measures of the length, will allow calculating the gross tonnage and thus estimating the volume of the vessel and its capacity of cargo, a significant element as it is a merchant ship. This, in turn, will allow to continue knowing the deposition of the elements in the sea floor, elucidating important aspects about the possible causes of the sinking, determine the current level of integrity, and the causes that could affect the wreck, whose study will establish the guidelines for its conservation and protection.

The methodology used combines the use of traditional techniques (grid, tape, level, paper and pencil) to generate data, and the use of digital techniques such as photogrammetry and photomosaic; it is demonstrated that it is possible to achieve precise records and virtual models that can be studied and preserved perpetually.

In summary, the archaeological research at Banco Chinchorro has provided surprising results that allow us to understand more about these submerged archaeological contexts. The investigation of the sites progresses and represents the sum of the effort generated by many people over the years that provide knowledge in the continuous search for answers, in this case regarding the cultural legacy that lies submerged in the Reserve of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere.

Finally, the remains of Jean lie buried, along with other wrecks, inside a Biosphere Reserve, a world heritage site. Biology sciences and archaeology are anastomosed in the study and research of these resources demanding special attention so that the data collection does not significantly impact the cultural and natural resources that make up the contexts. In addition to historical research, the archaeological record, conservation and protection are other lines of research of the sites; coupled with this, management and training programs are implemented that allow, on the one hand, to generate awareness and knowledge on the value and importance of these resources, and on the other, the possibility of carrying out controlled tourist tours for the benefit of local communities, and enjoyment of visitors. The generation of virtual models allows access to the sites in a universal way and without risk for the resources and context that comprise it.

The symbiosis generated by underwater archaeological contexts with the natural ones that host and the biodiversity that inhabits them, creates an inescapable commitment to generate science with awareness, which seeks knowledge and culture, with the protection and conservation of ecosystems as part of the environment and general context of the sites. Culture and nature are a whole and unique environment, the same and equally important and respectable, even more so in a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site such as Banco Chinchorro.


Thanks to the SAS and INAH, that for more than two decades have deposited in me their trust and support that let me immerse in this adventure for the knowledge of the submerged archaeological heritage that Mexico has. My gratitude also to the CONANP authorities and to the local community of Chinchorro Bank for their friendship and support.

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