Both archaeology and history interpret the past, but they take different roads to the same destination. Historical and archival research are fundamental aspects of an archaeological project. In a very real sense, contemporary documents are artifacts. They are simply in situ somewhere else. They carry their information not only in their material, form, and provenience but also on another level—an abstract level. It is the information contained in the abstract level that is most used.

two caravels

Official copy of the inventory that Pedro Frances, master of the caravel Niρa named Santa Clara, made of the caravel and of her gear.

I, Pedro Frances, citizen of Palos, master of the caravel named Niρa, God
save her, do declare and recognize having received and had turned over to me
said caravel with rigging and following items:


Archivo General de Indias (Seville, Spain). Contratación 3249, folio 178 vuelto.

•First the hull of the caravel with all
the masts and lateen yards of said caravel
•Carrying a mainsail and two bonnets
•A foremast mainsail and bonnet, both old
•An old mizzen sail
•A half-worn countermizzen sail
•In addition, a mainsail and bonnet [for the] mainmast
and a foremast mainsail and new bonnet
•2 half-worn cables
•1 old main tye runner [halyard], a mizzen tye runner,

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Complete document (image, transcription, and English translation) published in Denise C. Lakey "The Inventories of Niña and Santa Cruz," Appendix D of Roger C. Smith, Vanguard of Empire: Ships of Exploration in the Age of Columbus (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 239–256.


Ships of Discovery's archival collection supports computerized catalog of more than 2200 documents and contains copies of more than 700 items from Spanish archives. Other collections of copied archival materials pertaining to maritime topics can be found in

  • Old Spanish Missions Historical Research Collection in the Special Collections department, St. Florence Library, Our Lady of the Lake University (San Antonio, Texas)
  • Lakey DeLuna Research Collection (Accession M1996-09) in the Special Collections department, John C. Pace Library, University of West Florida (Pensacola, Florida)
  • National Archives of Canada (Ottawa).

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