Atlantic Wildlife Association


The Shipwreck site of  " Faro A " (versão em português)


The find
In a peaceful afternoon of December 1996, two divers from Algarve, José Augusto Silva and Miguel Galvão, decided to plunge once more, this time in a rocky outcropping never before visited by the team. For this, they introduce in the GPS a mark plotted in a navigation chart of the southwest Algarve that indicated the reef.
Arrived on the site, they set anchor and started their descent, upon arrival at the bottom they quickly realized that they were in a sand area having the boat anchor moored on the only rock of the entire site. The dive was an absolute boring event due to the monotony of the sand, the low visibility and the week lighting from the rapid sunset. Upon the return, almost at the end of the dive, is spotted the shine of a school of fish that rested upon a reef. With a more attentive look this reef revealed odd shapes, regular and symmetrical shapes, seconds after, came the extraordinary revelation that they were big cannons lying upon the reef, a ship was found.


Shipwreck location



ficheiro G.Robb, tratamento realizado por J.Y.Blot,missão CNANS/ROBO2000
FaroA: imagery of the side scan sonar
fic.G.Robb, J-Y.Blot treatment
 Robo/CNANS2000 mission
 Central nucleus
Concreted pewter plates


The archaeological work

The shipwreck was declared to the authorities and to the National Centre for Underwater and Nautical Archaeology (CNANS). CNANS started the necessary steps to protect and study the site. Since 2000 archaeologist, Jean-Yves Blot has been the chief-archaeologist of a team of CNANS’s technicians and local volunteers.
During the six years that Blot directed the site, a complete survey of the site that utilized three-dimensional cartography, georeference by side scan sonar, visual surveys, magnetometer surveys, photomosaic was done. The retrieval of some of the more important artefacts planed and executed. Innovative research, like the elaboration of mathematical vectorial maps, the first use of liquid nitrogen for cleansing artefacts in Portuguese underwater conservation was possible from this work. Museum research, documentation analysis and contacts with some of the world experts in the subject of pipes and pewter plates (artefacts located and removed from the site), together with all the survey work done allow currently for the hypothesis that this wreck was from the seventeenth century. Have likely departed from London as part of the famous Smyrna convoy, this ship meet its fate when French corsairs attacked this convoy of 400 ships in June 1693 near the Algarve coastline


Archaeological Campaigns

 Archaeological Campaigns
The first intervention on the site was in May 1997, led by the director of CNANS, Francisco Alves  it was a mini-survey with the goal of a preliminary site identification.
Since that initial campaign and up to 1999 only some small visits to the site were conducted, that had the following results; an inventory of the visible cannons, a photographic record of the more relevant elements in the case of the cannons, the location of two groups of concreted plates and finally some visual surveys of the surrounding areas.
Since 2000, archaeologist Jean-Yves Blot was given by CNANS the responsibility of directing the site, and he gathered a work team that included local volunteers, junior archaeologists and technicians from CNANS.
From that moment forward, the dynamic generated allowed for some creative, innovative and highly participative work on the site.
In the June 2000 campaign was initiated the trilateration/vectorial cartography works, the visible cannons were studied in details, visual surveys allowed the discovery of a new area, close to the central nucleus of the wreck, composed of several artillery pieces. This allowed the making of a site map regarding the site dispersion and aiding for the comprehension of the shipwreck. Moreover a complete photo and video record of the site was done, including the central nucleus and the isolated pieces, with special attention to the cannons and the pewter plates.
In August 2000, the survey vessel Robo, belonging to George Robb, under the invitation of Blot, surveyed FaroA in the mission CNANS/Robo2000. This survey utilized side scan sonar and a magnetometer and gave to the team a geo-referenced site map.
In the winter of 2000, under instructions by Blot, Mario Jorge Almeida from the National Museum of Archaeology, with the support of a team from CNANS, raised seven pewter plates that were concreted in the wreck.


1st sketch of Faro A done in 1996 by José António Cavaco on a dive with a visibility of 3m Photographic mosaic of FaroA by José Augusto Silva


The survey works continued in 2002. That year allowed for the completion of the trilateration started in the previous campaign; the measurement in detail of the cannons, and a mini-excavation on a nine by nine meters square in the south part of the central nucleus. This mini-excavation yielded some small artefacts, mostly nails and similar objects, after their positioning, they were raised, photographed, recorded and submitted to x-rays, after their study, they were reburied on site. Moreover the central nucleus was also photographed for the making of a new, more complete, photomosaic; more visual surveys of the surroundings were done, which lead to the discovery of several cannons, and finally for the illustration of the campaign a photo-report was made. The year ended in a high note with the realization of a pioneer study on the biology of an shipwreck, under the invitation of Blot, by a team of biologist from the local university, Universidade do Algarve, lead by Dr. George Gonçalves.


Water dredge excavation inside the grid square
 Measurement of a cannon


In the 2003 Campaign, also directed by Blot, was conducted a series of transversal measurements of the central nucleus for the purposes of creating a three-dimensional model of the same. It was also the year that a grid corridor survey, spaced apart by 5m, was done in the directions of 270º for 100 m and 360º for 50 m, this survey used divers equipped with metal detectors had the goal of locating and plotting artefacts. Inside the corridor were several iron guns and several buried metallic artefacts located by metal detector. Most of the artefacts were positioned measured and photographed. This year’s work was of great importance for the understanding of the dispersal pattern of the shipwreck. Moreover, in this campaign several original artefacts were found, for example, some iron-works, a broken cannon, a anchor and a piece of wood.
Simultaneous to these main tasks there were others regarding the need for confirmation of distances and object remeasures. Also a detachment was in charge of photos of the main nucleus, of all the details and for photo-illustrating all the several tasks done.

Survey work
The gardian of FaroA



Researching the known clues

A pile of plates...
Of all the artefacts identified in the exploration of FaroA, it was in a set of pewter plates that resided all the hopes of getting to the identification of the wreck. The pile of plates was well concreted and taken to the CNANS labs were it was cleaned by the conservators Gonçalves and Tissot, following an innovative process of cleaning by liquid nitrogen, suggested by Macleod (director of the conservation lab of Western Maritime Museum). The cleaning revealed some markings upon the rim that were a W an H and two stars. After many researches, the markings were identified by the museum curator of Stratford-upon-Avon who related them Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall and to a proximate date of 1675. Later on Jan Gadd, a Swedish engineer and metallurgist residing in England, expert on the subject was able to date, from the photographs done in the photo labs of the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology (IPA) by Jose Paulo Ruas, the pewter plates to the last decades of the seventeenth century. A more minute detail also led the expert to believe that these plates were never used and were indeed cargo. From some fusion markings on the top plates we now believe that the ship sunk due to a fire.


Foto de Pedro Gonçalves, CNANS
Concreted plates into the wreck
Treatment done in the CNANS labs
photo by Pedro Gomçalves,CNANS
foto de José Paulo Ruas - Inst.Portug.Arqueologia
foto de Pedro Gonçalves, CNANS
Cleansed plates
photo by  José Paulo Ruas IPA
The markings WH** visible on the plate’s rim
photo by Pedro Gonçalves,CNANS


Clay Fragments...
During the disassembly of the pile of plates retrieved from Faro A and treated in the labs of CNANS, appeared between the concretions a set of small fragments of clay. Once assembled by the conservators it was the upper part of a clay pipe. Observation of the fragment by the British expert David Higgins led to a date in between 1690 and 1710, definitively of English manufacture. For its fragility and short life span, the clay pipe is a excellent “fossil” for marking archaeological sites


foto: laboratório do CNANS
foto: laboratório do CNANS
Disassembled clay pipe pieces
laboratorial photo from  CNANS
Assembled clay pipe fragment ,done in CNANS labs laboratorial photo from CNANS


A ship lost at the bottom
The artificial reef that became of the shipwreck is about 20 meters long with 8 wide and is composed by a large quantity of concreted iron bars placed longitudinally one another in a disorganized form. A detailed exam of this metallic cargo, including the iron cannons that rest on top, allowed to surmise the hypothesis that the ship landed with is bottom part of hull port side and lightly astern in the sea bottom with some degree of speed. This is corroborated by the asymmetry of artefact dispersion. The concretion process of the metallic part was faster than the degradation of the wooden hull and the artificial reef, the main nucleus, reflects with some degree of faithfulness the volume of the bottom of the ship. In the 2003 campaign an exhaustive three-dimensional record of the main nucleus was done, integrated with the trilateration network which gave a very precise three-dimensional model.


The volumetric of the main nucleus of FaroA
 3 D model created  by  Tiago Fraga e Randal Saski


A great naval advent
The crossing of all the clues, the plates, the pipe, the burn marks of one of the pewter plates, and the documentation found in the Public Record Office of London, that state the loss by fire between Faro and Quarteira of several British merchant vessels  belonging to the famous Smyrna fleet, led to the strong belief that FaroA is precisely one of those vessels.


"...There was seen Sunday morning very early 5 ships burning near Faro and were supposed to be from the English Dutch Smyrna ships,many of bayles of goods being seen floating on the sea ...on shore near Faro...
Manuscript reproduction from the Public Record Office and free translation by Gonçalo de Carvalho


The disaster of the Smyrna fleet 
From the north of Europe came a convoy of 400 merchant vessels destined to the Mediterranean port of Smyrna. Principally formed of British and Dutch ships they were protected by 25 war vessels commanded by Vice-Admiral Edward Rook. On the 27 of July 1693, near Lagos, a fleet of more than 70 war vessels, commanded by the Admiral Tourville engaged the unsuspected fleet. According to the records, 57 merchant vessels were captured, many ended up destroyed or burned and even some were scuttled by their own crew so that they would not fall to enemy hands.
The tale of flights, chases, battles and sinkings occurred along the Algarve shore in the fateful June 1693, and was inscribed in History as one of the biggest naval disasters England has ever suffered causing one of the strongest political crises between European powers.

Battle of Lagos- Smyrna fleet painting by Willem Van de Velle 


300 years later, it is with great passion for the sea and for the adventure that diver, archaeologists, engineers, mathematicians, biologists and researchers from the more diverse branches of science, and jacks-of-all-trades, as several national and international institutions that work with “soul” to shed some light on what was found in December 1996.
For this fantastic tale to be known to the public, archaeologist Jean-Yves Blot as written an extraordinary script for an exhibition – Faro A: the portrait of the unknown – which is being organized by the Municipal Museum of Faro and the  Atlantic Wildlife Association. This exhibition is scheduled to open their gates in December 2007 in the Municipal Museum of Faro and expected to travel to outer national and European cities.