Digital Library

Bahia Mujeres Wreck, c. 1525

Ricardo Borrero


Country: Mexico
Place: Close to Cancún
Coordinates: Lat.   ; Long.
Type: Unknown
Identified: No
Dated: c. 1525


History of the shipwreck

The site was found in 1958 by a fisherman named José de Jesus Lima and salvaged by him and his sons until 1960.  The site was also salvaged by Edwin Link in 1959 or 1960 and by the CEDAM in 1960 and 1961.

Fig 1. Bahia Mujeres shipwreck site.

In 1984 it was surveyed by the INA (Roger Smith and Don Keith) and the Mexican INAH.  The site is a ballast mound measuring approximately 20 x 4-8 m. There is no information regarding the existence of hull remains under the ballast pile. It is located near Cancún, Mexico.  The identity of the ship is unknown, but the shipwreck has been dated to the first half of the 16th century, based on the artifacts discovered.  It has been suggested that these remains could be the ones of Francisco de Montejo’s ship La Nicolasa.  Francisco de Montejo (1479-1553) was the conqueror of the Yucatan Peninsula and maintained a presence on this coast between 1527 and 1529.  It is possible that this shipwreck was once one of Montejo’s ships, possibly even Nicolasa, because this vessel sailed back to Cuba and there is information even suggesting its loss on the Quintana Roo coast.

Some of the artifacts recovered right after its discovery, between 1958 and 1961, were lost for lack of treatment and some were even taken out of the country.

INA divers surveying the site.

In the early 1980s, Donald Keith and Roger Smith, then researchers at the Institute of Nautical Archeology (INA) at Texas A&M University, surveyed the ship, and in 1983-1984 the Department of Underwater Archeology of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the Mexican Secretary of the Navy, INA and the diving instructor Alfonso Arnold collaborated to survey the area and relocate the site.

In 1990, a joint project was carried out with the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Ships of Discovery, based in Texas, to explore the area and survey the site, executing a number of sampling trenches.

Before archaeologists began their work, UNAM biologists removed the live corals from the area to protect them, and once the work was done, they replanted them. The biologists themselves monitored the area for a year, until there was virtually no evidence of the intervention.


Metal, ceramic, and some ballast stones were also recovered. Small fragments of the lining of the ship’s hull were found, using a proton magnetometer and SCUBA diving. There were also pieces such as handmade bronze pins, droplets of mercury, an almost complete bronze candlestick, a canon iron bullet that does not correspond to the caliber of the cannons found there, a very small piece of wood and fragments of lead.


The ballast mound measures approximately 20 x 4-8 m.


The INA team report mentions a five-tined grapnel anchor 1.45 m high, three guns, and three breechblocks (Table I).


Table I. Anchors from the Bahia Mujeres Shipwreck

Designation Hight Weight Arm / shank length ratio Position of stock keys
Grapnel 1.45 m Less than 20 Kg
Anchor 3.00 m 1:2.6 Same plane of the arms
Anchor ? ? ? ?


We know that a small breech loading gun was raised in 1958 by the finders of this shipwreck, at least another gun was raised by Edwin Link in 1959, two or three guns were recovered by CEDAM in 1960, and another gun and an anchor were lifted in 1961 by the same diving group. The INA team report mentions three guns, and three breechblocks (Table II).

Table II. Artillery from the Bahia Mujeres Shipwreck

Designation Length Bore Weight
Falconete grande
Bombardeta breechblock
Bombardeta breechblock
Verso breechblock


Keith, Donald, and Smith, Roger, An Archaeology survey of an early 16th century shipwreck site in Bahia Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Cancun, Mexico, Report in the INA archives, 1984.

Smith, Roger “Treasure ships of the Spanish Main: The Iberian-American Maritime Empires” in Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas, Ed. by George Bass, T&H, 1988.