Teacher notes

Take Only Photos and Leave Only Bubbles:

Learn About American History from a Sunken Spanish Galleon

Archaeologists have never had it easy. They have battled weather and physical hardships - only then to have to explain what they found...if they found anything at all. But imagine trying to locate artifacts on the bottom of the ocean.

For hundreds of years people have tried to recover lost goods from shipwrecks. Often, in the past, treasure hunters used native people to free dive if the shipwreck was close to shore. In the twentieth century, advancements in technology and diving equipment have allowed archaeologists and treasure hunters to recover a marvelous wealth of treasure and historical knowledge.

This wealth can range from gold necklaces and pieces of eight to seeds that reveal what foods were either eaten or transported. We can also know how people's lives were changed as a result of the trade items that were carried from port to port.

However, in our quest for knowledge and treasure, we have not always collected these gifts of the past with the greatest of care. With so many of our natural resources in peril today, we do need to examine how we excavate an archaeological site on land or a Spanish galleon found buried in a coral reef.


The Task

2000 Ocean Blvd.
Newport News, Virginia 


Department Chair
Department of Marine Archaeology
Any University, USA


The National Oceanographic Association (NOA) announces the opportunity for university marine archaeologists to submit a proposal for the chance to excavate a recent discovery of a Spanish Galleon. The galleon was found at the Key Largo Coral Reef in the National Marine Sanctuary. The shipwreck was located by NOA's Coastal operation which analyzes bottom habitats.

Evidence suggests this is a major find of a Spanish galleon that has never been touched. Furthermore, preliminary observations suggest that this was a flagship carrying a great deal of treasure from the Americas to Spain in the late 16th century.

NOA requests all interested universities submit a proposal for this excavation. The proposal needs to include:

All proposals are due on _____________. Late proposals will not be accepted.



Patrice Rosen
Executive Director, NOA

The Process

You will need to assign your university team different roles so that all tasks can be accomplished in the time allotted. However, some of the investigations may require that collaboration take place between the investigators.

You will need a:

Marine Archaeologist:

Your role will be to investigate previous excavations of Spanish galleons or other old shipwrecks. You will also need to find out how the restoration of objects is handled. After researching your job will be to supply diagrams of the proposed excavation and to write this portion of the proposal.

Nautical Historian

You will need to investigate the routes of the Spanish galleons and find the answers to the following questions: What items were shipped to Spain and what items were shipped to the New World? How were the galleons built and navigated? Where were they built? What caused the shipwrecks? You will need to supply your group with maps, illustrations and a summary of this section of the proposal.

Spain and America Historian(s)

You will investigate the motivation behind the Spanish exploration of the Americas and how the Spanish gained control of Mexico and South America in order to answer the following questions: What impact did the Spanish conquest have on the native peoples? What exchanges occurred between the two cultures? What was the encomienda system? What items would have come from the Americas, and what items would have come from Asia? Why would there have been items from Asia on board the Spanish galleon? You will need to provide illustrations, maps and a written report for this portion of the proposal.

Marine Ecologist

Some of the corals that surround the shipwreck are not endangered; however, there is concern about their continual preservation. Find out what they are and what your team can do to minimize damage. You also need to record what fish are present in the coral reef environment. (Remember NOA and the Florida National marine Sanctuary are watching). You will want to draw illustrations of the excavation site and pictures of the ocean environments. The ecologist can also offer advice on weather conditions. You will write a report for this section of the proposal.


Your Learning Log, Group Report and Presentation

As you explore the various websites or other resources, record the key information on note cards. You will need to record at least ten different references in your proposal. You may also need to pass along the name of a site or other reference to other members of your team who may benefit from the information.

The final group presentation to the NOA representatives should be 10-15 minutes long. The marine archaeologist and marine ecologist will present their findings on one large poster board. The nautical historian and the Spain and America historian(s) will present their findings on a separate large poster board. Your posters should include pictures, maps, charts, graphs and diagrams.

After your presentation you will need to submit a written proposal which includes resource references you used for your findings. Each person in the group will need to write up their section of the proposal.

The Marine Archaeologist will need to cover general information on how the team will excavate the Spanish galleon.

This section of the proposal should include:

The Nautical Historian is expected to research all areas which involve the sailing of the Spanish galleons across the Atlantic.

This section of the proposal should include:

The Spain and America historian will provide the background about Spain's conquest of the Americas, which led to the lucrative Spanish galleon trade in the 16th century.

This section of the proposal needs to include:

The Marine Ecologist will investigate how to excavate the Spanish Galleon in a coral reef.

This section of the proposal needs to include:

Learning Advice

As you explore different websites, keep a learning log about them. Stay away from commercial websites that deal with the selling of treasure, as they do not yield helpful information. Not all the information you need is online; you will also have to use other resources such as CD Rom, videos, books and articles.


The following are General Resources for all team members

Spain in the West Indies

The History of the Spanish Treasure Fleet System

Silver Banks

Florida's Underwater Archaeology

San Pedro

Urca de Lima

Columbus Shipwrecks of La Isabela Bay
http://www.indiana.edu/~r317doc/dr/CES-1 .html

Miami Museum of Science-Shipwreck Exhibit

The Spanish Galleon Trade - Saipan's Sunken Treasures

Spanish Anchor at the Key Largo Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Marine Archaeologist:

Conservation of Artifacts


Marine Archaeology and Maritime History

What is a Nautical Chart?

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve

La Salle Shipwreck Project


Nautical Historian:

Sailing the Ship

Searching the Seas

Spain and America Historian(s)

The Great Exchange

Middle America
http://sunsite.unc.edu/expo/1492.exhibit/e Eur.claims.Amer/midamer.html

Europe Claims America
http://sunsite.unc.edu/expo/1492.exhibit/e Eur.claims.Amer/eur.claims.amer.html

The Caribbean
http://sunsite.unc.edu/expo/1492.exhibit/e Eur.claims.Amer/carib.html

Conquest in the Andes
http://sunsite.unc.edu/expo/1492.exhibit/e Eur.claims.Amer/andesconq.html

Marine Ecologist

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Longevity and Causes of Death

Marine Statistics for USA
http://www.wcmc.org.uk:80/cgi bin/mp_misquery.p

Biodiversity and Coral Reefs

Reefs at Risk
http://pdf.wri.org/reefs.pdf [PDF]


You will be assessed using a rubric that addresses how well you problem solve and access information for your proposal, how well you work together as a team to complete the proposal, and how convincingly you present the proposal. Your final grade will include both individual and group grades on the oral presentation of the proposal, written proposal, and the learning log.

Elements to the scoring rubric:



  1. What website was the most useful?
  2. Would it be possible to fulfill all those roles on the excavation team as an individual? Why or why not?
  3. What was the most helpful action of the team or team member in completing the project?
  4. Is there anything you or your team would do differently in completing a similar assignment?
  5. How would you have done this project without the Internet resources?
  6. Did you find a new web site that was not suggested as a resource? What was it?

Teacher notes

Submitted by:

Cathy Rosen
Moss Landing Middle School
North Monterey County USD
CH-SSP/SCORE Technology Academy 1997
Reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Ronald Dolkart, CSU Bakersfield

Technical questions on the website to: hoa_nguyen@sbcss.k12.ca.us

Last Revised: Tue, Mar 21, 2006