Other Useful Plant Materials
Two fragments of bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) rind were recovered (07,821 and 07,786). According to Newsom (1995:3) "bottle gourd was originally native to Africa, but is known from archaeological contexts on the American continents, including Florida, from at least as early as 7,000 years before present." She suggests that the hard-shelled fruits would have been useful aboard the ship as containers or that the seeds of some varieties could have been eaten or processed into seed oil.
During excavations in Grid A1, a mass of resinous material (approximately 1 cm by 1.1 cm) was recovered from the dredge screen. This substance, which has since dissaggregated into a loose, amorphous mass, is deep reddish in color and somewhat tacky. According to Newsom (1995:3):
the presence of dissociated large-diametered vessel elements with scalariform perforation plates (a diagnostic cell type and structure in woody plants) that have thick, widely spaced bars, indicates the resinous material is from a tree, but not a coniferous species (e.g., pine); this cell type is exclusive to hardwoods, e.g., red mangrove).
Without a positive identification, the presence of this material aboard ship is somewhat problematical. Considering the other botanical materials found aboard the ship, it is likely that the material derives from a tropical American species. Newsom (1995:4) suggests that its presence aboard the ship could represent “glue or other sealing material (e.g. `gum elemi’ [Bursera simaruba] in balled up form.” Alternatively, the substance may have been used as a “medicinal and/or aromatic tree resins (e.g., copal, Burseraceae and other families).” For example, a native circum-Caribbean tree, lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale, “wood of life”), became a very early article of the Spanish trade by 1508 (Record and Hess 1943:556-558). “The actual product from lignum vitae was the copius resin, known as `guaiac’ or 'Guaiaci,’ which was thought to have great medicinal value. Lignum vitae, like the Burseraceae (including gum elemi and copal), lacks scalariform perforation plates, but several other families and genera of the resinous tropical trees have them” (Newsom 1995:4).
One scholar of Mexican medicine, Schendel (1968:15, 62-80), notes that the
Spanish were amazed at Aztec knowledge and employment of medicinal herbs.
Evidence of this can be seen in Santa Maria de Yciar’s 1554 register where two medicinal substances were being shipped to Spain: tacamahaca, a type of gum or resin
and sarsaparilla which the Aztecs used in treating respiratory diseases (Arnold and
Weddle 1978:269-70). Organic chemical analyses are tentatively planned in cooperation
with the SIUC Geology department to help further discriminate and resolve the identification of this material.