Did You Know? The oldest European shipwreck in the Southern Hemisphere was found on the Molasses Reef...

About 1513, on a reef located on the southern fringe of the Caicos Bank some 20 miles south of the island of Providenciales, a ship sank. This ship, known only as the Molasses Reef Wreck, is the oldest European shipwreck excavated in the Western Hemisphere.

The location of the Molasses Reef wreck is an important clue to the ship's mission and identity. The first Spanish colonies in the New World were located along the north coast of the island of Hispaniola. For over 450 years, the wreck sat on the reef apparently undisturbed after its loss. In the mid-1970s, it was discovered by a pair of treasure hunters and scientifically excavated only in the 1980s.

The ship that wrecked on Molasses Reef is an example of one of the first truly sea-going ships: The product of thousands of years of evolution in nautical design to meet the challenge of the vast and forbidding Atlantic Ocean. From the famous wreck cannons and shot, wooden hull pieces, surgical implements, bowls and storage jars, carpentry tools, metal portions of the rigging and tailoring tools were conserved. The Molasses Reef ship was armed with everything from heavy artillery to crossbows, swords and grenades. Superior armament was a key element in the success of the explorers.

© Ships of Discovery / UNESCO
Molasses Reef Wreck Project: The earliest shipwreck found in the New World to date is the Molasses Reef Wreck, lost in the first quarter of the 16th century. Project Dr. Donald Keith is excavating one of the well preserved swivel guns.