In Pottery from Spanish Shipwrecks, 1500–1800, Mitchell W. Marken synthesizes more than ten years of research into a major new contribution on Spanish earthenwares. The incorporation of shipwreck material into archaeological studies has been problematic because of the number of marine sites that are salvaged for profit rather than for scientific research. Not only does this practice result in the destruction of underwater sites, but it raises an ethical question for archaeologists: whether to collaborate in such work and risk legitimizing it, or to exclude from the professional literature any information recovered by salvage operations.
Marken addresses this issue in his introduction. Without condoning the practice of treasure hunting, he advocates the cautious use of salvaged material as part of the database for studies of material culture. Frequently, he underlines the damage done to scientific and public appreciation of underwater sites by poor research and recovery methods. It may be hoped that this book will educate both the general public and those involved in salvage about the rich historical heritage that lies beneath the ocean.
A major contribution of Marken’s work is his study of the earthenware vessels that have become familiar to U. S. students of Spanish colonial archaeology as “olive jars.” Marken revises the classification of these vessels and links the different versions that are known through archaeology with terminology from Spanish archives. Of particular interest to both archaeologists and historians is his analysis of the different sizes and forms of the jars, which seem to correlate with common volumetric measures of the Spanish colonial period. This information, in turn, suggests likely contents and functions of various types of jars. By linking archaeological forms with the botijas peruleras, botijas medias peruleras, and botijuelas of Spanish shipping archives, Marken has laid the groundwork for truly integrative work on the transatlantic trade.
Historians of Spanish trade, though, must find their own route to incorporating Marken’s data into broader studies of shipping. This book contains only sparse references to histories of the transatlantic trade, leaving a clear need to synthesize the information here with studies of shipping in the Cambridge History of Latin America or with such recent works as Carla Rahn Phillips’ Six Galleons for the King of Spain (1986).
Finally, the author’s careful compilation of how markings, rims, and vessel forms changed over time provides abundant new data that should make olive jars more useful as temporal markers at archaeological sites. Although the publishers should correct major glitches, such as the repeated use of Casa de Contraction for Casa de Contratación, this work will undoubtedly be a standard reference for many years to come.