Ancient Images

The map of Juan de la Cosa in 1500 clearly shows the three masts, the low castles, the bowsprit, and the top one shows the rudder attachment. Museo Naval, Madrid.

Sources of information about ships of the age of European exploration and discovery are limited. Until archaeologists began locating, excavating, and documenting sites there were only three avenues available to study these ships: scanty and sometimes conflicting written descriptions in nautical treatises and archival documents, artistic depictions from maps, drawings and objects, and the survival of ancient techniques of ship construction.

Some of the most helpful for the modern researcher are ancient depictions from maps, contemporary drawings, and objects. These reveal some important information. Ships from the Age of Exploration had 3 masts and a bowsprit, a combination of square-rigged and lateen sails, low castles fore and aft, and rudders attached to the sternpost.

This Hispano-Moresque bowl from about 1425 in the Victoria and Albert Museum shows both the square salil and a lateen sail.

This drawing from about 1530 showing ships off the Dover coast of England provides a wealth of information about the masting and rigging of these exploratory ships. A careful look even shows how the rigging is attached to the hull. But none of these drawings give any information about how these ships were built. Archival research and the careful study of ancient documents and treatises provide other useful clues.