The Discovery and Archaeology of the San Juanillo on the Shores of Baja California
Ghost Galleon tells the story of archaeologists’ twenty-year search on a desolate beach in Baja California for the enigmatic remains of a Spanish galleon that disappeared without a trace more than four centuries ago. Carrying a substantial cargo of Asian riches to the New World, Manila galleons forged the final link in the unification of the world through commerce by their annual sailings across the Pacific Ocean between Mexico and the Philippines. Here, author Edward Von der Porten relates how a chance viewing of blue-on-white Chinese porcelain sherds in a museum catalog led him, his wife Saryl, and a team of researchers to the wary beachcombers who discovered the sherds in the 1970s. To Von der Porten, an expert in sixteenth-century Chinese porcelains, these broken plates, bowls, and teacups represented the possibility of something much more significant: one of the earliest known Manila galleon shipwrecks, and one of only three such galleon wrecks on the West Coast.
In collaboration with the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico (INAH), Von der Porten and a dedicated team undertook the first of many archaeological expeditions to investigate the site in 1999. Over the course of twenty years, a team of American and Mexican archaeologists recovered thousands of artifacts, conducted countless hours of research, reached many dead ends, enjoyed a few breakthroughs, and finally concluded that they had indeed located the remains of the cargo from a late sixteenth century Spanish galleon—most likely the San Juanillo of 1578, lost on its long return voyage from Manila to Acapulco. This expansively illustrated, highly accessible work offers readers an absorbing inside view of
how archaeologists, working like detectives at an ancient crime scene, carefully assemble the evidence that allows scientific reconstruction of events from long ago. This memoir-style narrative documents the day-to-day realities of such a project, as experienced by the perspective of the author. Despite the elements of time, wind, and tide, Von der Porten and his colleagues have resurrected the tale of the ill-fated San Juanillo to enrich our understanding and appreciation of the treasures of the past.
Book cover credits: Painting by Gordon Miller. Drawing by Raymond Aker.
Von der Porten
Author of The German Navy in World War II and Discovering Francis Drake’s California Harbor, Ed was a naval historian, nautical archaeologist, museum director, educator, and a long-time member of the Drake Navigators Guild. He was also a noted expert on sixteenth-century Chinese porcelains.