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In The Spanish Treasure Fleets of 1715 and 1733: Disasters Strike at Sea students learn about Spain's dominance of New World trade through its treasure fleet system. The following activities will help students examine more aspects of the treasure fleet system and consider the significance of the shipwreck sites today.

Activity 1: Life Aboard a Treasure Fleet
The majority of the crew and passengers aboard a treasure fleet ship had to live in cramped, damp, unclean quarters for weeks or months at a time. Crews' quarters included a six-foot-long space to hang a hammock or lay a pallet, and headroom was generally no more than five feet, four inches. Although officers were most often Spanish citizens, crews consisted of men and boys from several European countries. Following are typical kinds and amounts of food offered to crew members:

Daily rations: 2 lbs. biscuit, 1 qt. wine, 1 qt. water.
Four times a week: 8 ozs. dried fish, 2 ozs. peas or beans.
Three times a week: 8 ozs. salt pork, 1 ½ ozs. rice.
Once a week: olive oil, vinegar, and cheese.1

Based on this and information learned in the lesson, ask students to prepare two journal entries as if they were onboard either the Urca de Lima or the San Pedro. One entry might give details of daily life (e.g., boredom and hardships) and the other the excitement of finally reaching a port. As an alternative, one entry could describe the excitement of leaving Havana after so many delays and the second could describe the storm. After journal entries are completed, ask for volunteers to read aloud. Complete the activity by having students discuss the hardships involved in being on a treasure fleet.

Activity 2: "Take Only Photos and Leave Only Bubbles"
For this activity, students will consider the implications of commercial treasure hunting versus the preservation of underwater resources. Begin by reminding students that both the Urca de Lima and the San Pedro were extensively salvaged in modern times as treasure hunters searched for and removed coins and other artifacts such as cannon and anchors. As Underwater Archaeological Preserves, these shipwreck sites now are protected by Florida laws prohibiting unauthorized disturbance, excavation, or removal of artifacts.

Next, read aloud the following quote:

If a treasure hunter and an archaeologist found a plank on a shipwreck…the archaeologist would try to determine what relationship that plank bore to the ship, observing details, drawing or photographing it in place. The salvager would only be interested in lifting the plank to see if there might be a gold coin under it.2

Ask the class to paraphrase the quote and consider its meaning. Then have students debate the following questions: Is it important to protect underwater resources such as the Urca de Lima and the San Pedro? Why or why not? Is it important to allow the public access to these sites? Why or why not? What difficulties (both natural and manmade) might there be in preserving and protecting underwater resources? "Take only photos and leave only bubbles" is a simple slogan with an important message. How would you paraphrase this slogan used by the State of Florida? What might be some consequences if this slogan is ignored?

Activity 3: A Global Economy
Spain's New World empire linked previously isolated regions in a global economic system. The treasure fleet system was costly and cumbersome, but it was the only means of transporting goods and precious metals so vital to Spain's economy across the Atlantic. The importing and exporting of goods continues to play a critical role in our world economy. The United States imports countless products from electronic equipment to toys to food. Working in small groups, ask students to choose a specific imported product and brand to research (e.g. Sony digital cameras, Toshiba televisions, BMW automobiles, olive oil, etc.). Groups should find out where the product is manufactured, how it is shipped to the United States, approximately how many units are imported each year, etc. After each group presents its findings, hold a classroom discussion on how global trade can affect our daily lives.

Activity 4: Preserving Local Historic Resources
As submerged resources, the wreck sites of the San Pedro and Urca de Lima represent unique challenges in terms of preservation and public access. Working in small groups, have students find and conduct research on a historic site in their community that is open to the public. If possible, have one group find out if there are any archaeological sites in the local area that are either under investigation or are already excavated and interpreted to the public. Groups should prepare an exhibit on the site that briefly outlines its history, explains when and how it opened to the public, and summarizes some of the issues involved in preserving the site today as well as how these issues are being addressed. Interviewing an individual who works at the site may be particularly helpful.

As a class, students should complete the activity by creating a chart comparing some of the preservation issues faced by the local sites and the shipwreck sites. Headings for the chart should include Natural Threats and Manmade Threats.

1 Robert F. Marx, Shipwrecks in the Americas (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1987), 14.
2 Robert F. Burgess and Carl J. Clausen, Florida's Golden Galleons: The Search for the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet (Port Salerno, Florida: Florida Classics Library, 1982), 124.

 

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