Emanuel Point Ship Archaeological Investigations, 1992-1995

The Emanuel Point Ship: Archaeological Investigations, 1992-1995, Preliminary Report

by Roger C. Smith, James Spirek, John Bratten, and Della Scott-Ireton

Bureau of Archaeological Research
Division of Historical Resources
Florida Department of State

November 1995

Download the entire report in PDF format (17mb)


To date, no artillery pieces or firearms have been found at the wreck site. However, the recovery of a variety of balls, or shot, provides clues to the types of ordnance that were most likely carried aboard the Emanuel Point Ship. Four types of shot are represented in the collection: stone, composite lead/iron, lead, and iron.


Eleven stone cannon balls, or bolaños, were discovered at the stern of the ship. The balls appear to have been fashioned by hand from limestone, probably with the aid of a template to guide the process of chipping the surface of the stone to a sphere of uniform size. Nine of the balls appear to have been manufactured from the same type of stone, of similar texture, color, and weight. Ball 01,000, however, is of a much coarser stone of lighter weight, while ball 00,775 is of similar weight and texture but of a much darker color. Although several of the balls in the collection exhibit flat areas, none being truely spherical, the similarity in diameter of all the balls (ranging from 10.03 cm to 11.02 cm) suggests that they may have been intended for the same weapon (Scott 1995).

Stone shot were fired from various large guns called pedreros (stone-throwers), or bombardas (lombards), and some of smaller caliber. They required less powder than other heavier ammunition to achieve their target; upon impact, the limestone balls tended to shatter into sharp projectiles that helped to destroy rigging and injure personnel. Two large pedreros were raised from the Manila galleon San Diego, which sank off the Philippines in 1600. Both are heavy muzzle-loading cast-bronze cannons with four lifting rings (Carré et al. 1994:208, 209). They fired stone balls of much larger caliber than those found on the Emanuel Point Ship. Elsewhere, a number of stone shot, varying greatly in diameter from 8.2 cm to 27.3 cm were found in association with wrought-iron lombard-type guns on the Villefranche wreck (Guérout et al. 1989). The smaller balls were probably ammunition for a bow-chaser, since they were found in the forward part of the ship; larger stone shot were found amidships with heavier artillery.

In the Americas, similar stone cannon balls are associated with the Spanish fleet that sank in 1554 off Padre Island, Texas. Five, ranging from 9.9 cm to 12.6 cm in diameter and weighing between 1,289 to 2,693 grams, were found at the wrecksite of Espíritu Santo (Olds 1976:85-86). A single stone ball was recovered from the San Estéban site; it weighed 1,147 grams and measured 9.9 cm in diameter (Arnold and Weddle 1978:250-252). Two stone balls also have been found at another sixteenth-century wrecksite (called St. John’s) in the Bahamas; they range between 9.2 cm and 9.8 cm in diameter (Malcom 1992). A single stone shot is alleged to have been found at the early 16th-century Molasses Reef wreck before the site was systematically excavated, but no record of its characteristics was made (Keith 1987:218).

Hand-chiseled limestone cannon-balls

Fig. 63. These hand-chiseled limestone cannon-balls were deadly weapons, since they tended to shatter upon impact into sharp projectiles.

Composite Lead/Iron

Smaller ammunition, fashioned from lead with an iron core, was also collected from the stern excavation area. Two lead balls, recovered with adhering ferrous concretions, was recognized as a type of shot characteristic of other 16th-century shipwrecks. Known by Spanish gunners as bodoques (Vigón 1947:45), these balls of composite con-struction were propelled from rapid-firing, breechloading swivel guns called versos. Each lead shot contained a cube of iron as a core, which has since completely oxidized, leaving a squared cavity visible through the lead shell. Shot 00,073, with a diameter of 4.05 cm, contained an iron cube which measured approximately 1.8 x 1.8 x 1.7 cm; shot 00,784 with a diameter of 3.96 cm, contained a cube of 3 x 2 x 2.1 cm. According to Vigón, the iron core was to be one-sixth to one-third the total weight of the ball.

Similar bodoques have been found on the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, which sank in 1545 (Rule 1982), the 1554 Padre Island shipwrecks (Olds 1976; Arnold and Weddle 1978), a Portuguese wreck believed to date from the second half of the sixteenth century (Blake and Green 1986), as well as on the early Spanish wrecks at Highborn Cay (Peterson 1974) and Molasses Reef (Keith 1987). On the latter site, a number of iron cubes, or “dice,” cut from wrought-iron bar stock, were found, as well as a bronze shot mold.

The reasons why shot were designed in this manner are not yet fully understood, although several hypotheses have been offered. One is that they were intended to fly apart upon firing, producing multiple projectiles; or, that the iron core helped to mushroom the lead upon ignition and create a tighter gas seal in the cannon barrel for increased velocity and range (Keith 1987: 218). Another theory suggests that lead shot, as opposed to iron, created less internal wear and stress on the barrel from which they were fired (Blake and Green 1986:13). Perhaps the composite makeup of the shot creat-ed a double impact that resulted in greater damage to the target; certainly the inclusion of iron in a lead shot reduced the mass of the projectile, and may have required less powder to propel it at the same velocity as a solid lead shot (Simmons 1992:18).

Studies of composite lead/iron shot from the Molasses Reef wreck suggest that, rather than wrought or wrapped by hand, the balls were cast in a mold. Simmons (1992) noted that all of the iron cubes in composite shot from this site and others were characteristically off-center, having migrated into one hemisphere. He reasoned that the eccentric location of the iron cores resulted from the lighter iron “floating” on the molten lead within the mold before the shot cooled. To test this theory, he conducted an experiment using a bronze shot mold recovered from the wreck. After placing an iron cube into the mold, molten lead was added and allowed to solidify. Repeated replication of shot demonstrated that the iron cores did not float, but remained at the bottom of the mold in a consistant manner. Replica shot were sectioned for comparison with sectioned examples from the wreck; the positions of the iron cores in relation to the lead shells were identical, confirming that bodoque shot probably were fabricated in a mold in a quick and uncomplicated manner, with little regard for the eccentric situation of the iron core (Simmons 1992:17, 18).

Composite lead shot

Fig. 64. Composite lead shot, known as bodoques, were fashioned with an iron cube in the center, which has long since corroded away in the salt water environment.


In addition to composite shot, a single example of solid lead shot also was recovered. While heavier in weight, its diameter, 4.04 cm, is quite close to those of the bodoque shot, suggesting that it was also intended to be fired from a verso-type swivel gun. Versos were the most common type of light artillery aboard ships of the 16th century. These portable, rapid-firing weapons, were served by interchangeable powder chambers, and could be strategically mounted in sockets along the rails of a vessel wherever they were needed. First to be studied from an archaeological context, several examples were recovered from the 1554 Padre Island wrecks (Olds 1976; Arnold and Weddle 1978). Versos with their chambers were also found at the Highborn Cay Wreck (Peterson 1974), and on the Molasses Reef Wreck (Keith, 1987). The latter site produced 16 versos of three distinct types: the verso normale, which was the most common; the verso doble, a longer and heavier version; and the verso liso, a shorter and lighter version. Typical bore diameter of these weapons was approximately 4.5 cm (Keith 1987:197), and their ammunition around 4 cm, or nine-tenths the diameter of the bore of the guns.

Composite lead shot

Fig. 65. Iron shot may have been ammunition for a common 16th-century wrought-iron cannon called a bombardeta.


A single example of cast- iron shot, of larger caliber than the verso shot, was found near the other balls. Its diameter, 6.23 cm, suggests that it may have been ammunition for a heavy wrought-iron gun. During the late 15th and early 16th centuries seige artillery went to sea for the purpose of bombarding enemy ships. During an age when the technology for casting large iron objects had not yet been developed, cannon tubes were hand wrought, or built up from smaller, forged pieces of iron welded together to form a reinforced barrel with a corresponding powder chamber. Essentially, a series of long, flat iron staves were laid up and welded parallel around a mandrel to form a tube, open at both ends. Then, a series of alternating iron sleeves and hoops were slid over the tube (barrel) and welded in place to provide reinforcement to the barrel. At least two of the hoops were fitted with lifting rings to facilitate moving and mounting the weapon to a wooden carriage. Powder chambers that mated to the breech end of the barrel were constructed in a similar fashion; a single gun may have had several interchangeable chambers to facilitate rapid reloading.

The most common type of built-up wrought-iron heavy guns found on 16th-century shipwrecks are called bombardetas. Examples from Mary Rose , the 1554 Padre Island wrecks, the Highborn Cay Wreck, the Molasses Reef Wreck, and the St. John’s Bahamas Wreck were found with their corresponding breech chambers and solid-iron ammunition. Bombardeta barrel lengths varied between 0.64 m and 2.65 m; bore diameters ranged from 7 cm to 11 cm; a pair of matched bombardetas from Molasses Reef exemplify the type, measuring 2.65 m in barrel length and 8 to 9 cm in bore diameter (Keith 1987:181)

The single iron shot from the Emanuel Point Ship may have been intended for use in a small bombardeta; its diameter (6.23) is almost nine-tenths the diameter of the smallest bombardeta bore. Alternately, it may have been intended for a shorter, smaller type of wrought-iron built-up cannon, called a cerbatana. A weapon like this was noted to have been on the Molasses Reef Wreck site, but was removed by treasure hunters before archaeologists could study its features (Keith 1987:182).


Evidence of the ship’s artillery thus far is confined to the recovery of ammunition, examples of which indicate that the ship was armed with heavy, stone-throwing cannons, perhaps bombardas or pedreros, medium wrought-iron ordnance, such as bombardetas or cerbatanas, and smaller swivel guns called versos. All examples of artillery shot were recovered from the stern of the ship, suggesting that they were stored near their respective guns, mounted in the stern. Perhaps the Emanuel Point Ship carried stern chasers, which fired through gunports in the stern transom. The Basque galleon, San Juan, had one stern gunport, located on the main deck to starboard of the rudder (Grenier 1988:80). Discovery of ammunition in the stern alternately suggests that perhaps the shot locker was located there, although other areas of the shipwreck have yet to be investigated. However, if the shot were stored in the same location as gunpowder, their location should have been farther forward in the ship, since a royal ordinance of 1552 directed that a special chamber for the powder should be constructed below deck in the bows of all Spanish ships sailing to and from the Indies (Haring 1964:274). On the other hand, a mid-18th-century dictionary illustrating the of outfitting of Spanish ships shows the powder magazine in the poop (upper stern), under the cabins (Phillips 1986:70). The magazine was called the rancho de Santa Barbara, after the patron saint of gunners who offered protection against thunderstorms, fires, and sudden death.

The 1552 ordinance also listed the types of artillery, men, arms, and munitions that ships should carry, according to their respective tonnage. Ships of between 100 and 170 tons were to carry two brass cannons (sacre and falconete), six wrought-iron lombards (bombardetas), and twelve versos. Ships of between 170 and 220 tons were to carry three brass cannons (media culebrina, sacre, and falconete), eight lombards, and eighteen versos. And, ships of between 220 and 320 tons should carry four brass cannons (media culebrina, two sacres, falconete), ten lombards, and twenty-four versos (Haring 1964:274). According to these regulations, the Emanuel Point Ship could have been quite heavily armed, although artillery usually was loaded according to the specific mission of a ship, as were stores and provisions, rather than as an integral or permanent part of a vessel’s equipment. There is a question of whether any artillery still remains at the shipwreck site, since its situation in shallow water close to shore would have offered every opportunity to salvage this expensive and essential equipment.

Table XIII
Shot Recovered from the Emanuel Point Ship



Max. Dia. (cm)

Weight (grams)

Stone shot 00,090 10.86 1,808.0
Stone shot 00,280 11.02 1,821.8
Stone shot 00,299 10.71 1,709.8
Stone shot 00,300 10.65 1,792.1
Stone shot 00,549 10.88 1,854.4
Stone shot 00,601 10.89 1,748.2
Stone shot 00,775 10.98 2,078.0
Stone shot 00,975 10.03 1,768.1
Stone shot 00,983 10.85 1,710.2
Stone shot 00,985 10.71 1,727.8
Stone shot 01,000 10.51 1,540.0
Lead/iron shot 00,611 4.12 332.8
Lead/iron shot 00,784 3.96 179.0
Lead shot 00,073 4.04 395.0
Iron shot 00,515 6.23 775.0

Last Updated Jan 30, 2009