The Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes Project, Spain

Coins from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes

The site:

The Frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes sank on 4 October 1804 following an explosion in the ship's powder magazine after it was hit by a cannonball. The shipwreck site is located 34 nautical miles from the south coast of Portugal, off the coast of Cabo de Santa María and has a depth of about 1,138 meters.

The archaeological remains are dispersed in the sea due to the explosion, the depth of the sea and the absence of sedimentation.

Coins from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes

The project:

Due to looting, litigation and the recovery of cultural property, the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes and the exhibition dedicated to it are particularly important for the management of underwater cultural heritage. On the other hand, the case of "Las Mercedes" had a much greater international impact and media coverage than similar previous cases.

The frigate project is fully in line with the objectives of the 2001 Convention in that it aims to combat the destruction of underwater heritage. This is all the more true as it is an example of an international legal victory in favour of the States Parties' fight against looting and in favour of the protection of underwater cultural heritage. Indeed, the 14 tons of cargo that had been looted by the international treasure hunters team Odyssey Marine Explorations, were recovered following a legal battle. This victory is mainly due to the coordination between the various institutions concerned: the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (MNAS), the Spanish Oceanographic Institute (IEO) with several recently acquired well-equipped vessels, the Sub-Department of the Ministry of Culture and Sports for the protection of the historical heritage and the Spanish Navy, the latter having been invited as an observer of the operations.

Public access:

The objects recovered from the wreck, i.e. 14 tonnes of archaeological material, including 600,000 coins, were deposited at the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in 2012. A comprehensive conservation project has been set up and documentation is being carried out. Some of the artifacts have been preserved in situ. Only a selection of objects were recovered because they were in danger due to lack of sedimentation or fragility or because they have historical relevance.

Following the legal battle, the Ministry set up permanent and temporary exhibitions to publicize the act of looting and the recovered heritage, but also to raise awareness of the importance of protecting underwater cultural heritage. A microsite has also been created to make the frigate's heritage available to all citizens, as the site is inaccessible due to its depth.


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