Anchors From Aztec Conqueror Hernan Cortes' Fleet of Ships Potentially Discovered off Coast of Mexico

Underwater archaeologists have discovered two 500-year-old iron ship anchors that may have belonged to the fleet of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes.

Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said that the anchors were found by divers at a spot in the Gulf of Mexico, just north of the city of Veracruz, The Associated Press reported.

The artifacts were buried in about a yard of sediment at depths of between 33 and 50 feet. According to INAH, divers subsequently reburied them in the same location in order to preserve the items.

Another anchor, featuring an intact wooden crosspiece, was found at the same spot in 2018. Analysis of the wood—a type of oak from northern Spain—suggested that the anchor dated back to between 1450 and 1530, which coincides with Cortes' arrival in the area.

The conquistador landed at Veracruz—previously known as "Villa Rica"—in April 1519, just two years prior to completing his conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521.

Historical documents suggest that Cortes deliberately sunk 10 of his ships to prevent dissident members of his army from deserting to Cuba.

The recently identified anchors were found at the spot where this sinking is thought to have taken place. While they don't feature any wooden pieces, they appear to date from the same period as the anchor found in 2018.

Furthermore, INAH says that the anchors were found in an orientation—aligned in a southwest direction—indicating they may have been part of Cortes' fleet.

anchors, Hernán Cortés fleet
One of the anchors discovered off the coast of Mexico by underwater archaeologists. INAH

However, researchers have not yet confirmed that the anchors belong to the fleet, and the possibility that they belonged to another set of ships cannot be ruled out.

Villa Rica was a busy port around the time of the conquest and another expedition came to the area shortly after Cortes'—so the anchors may have belonged to those ships.

Surveys conducted by the underwater archaeologists have identified 15 additional anomalies that have great potential to be anchors, as they follow the same alignment as the three anchors that have already been found. These will be explored in future dives to see if anchors are indeed present in the 15 locations.

"If they are, it would reaffirm the hypothesis that we are facing the port of what was Villa Rica in its short duration, or the other assumption, that we have located the point where the Cortes fleet sank and we could begin to assemble the puzzles from where to look for other types of objects such as wooden hulls," Roberto Junco, head of INAH's Underwater Archeology Office (SAS) and co-director of the project, said in a statement.

The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire was one of the most significant events in the colonization of the Americas. Despite being vastly outnumbered initially, Cortes conquered the Aztecs in two years by forming alliances with various indigenous groups who were their enemies and rivals.

"The Conquest of Mexico was a seminal event in human history, and these shipwrecks, if we can find them, will be symbols of the cultural collision that led to what is now the West, geopolitically and socially speaking," Frederick Hanselmann, part of the team of underwater archaeologists, said in a statement.