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Storage Jars & Musket Balls Found in the San Diego Shipwreck Near Fortune Island in Batangas, Philippines [Amazing Archeology]

Storage Jars Found in the San Diego Shipwreck Near Fortune Island in Batangas

San Diego was a Manila galleon engaged in inter-island trade, hastily converted into a warship along with two other vessels to engage a Dutch naval fleet that entered Philippine waters. The vessel sank on 14 December 1600 near Fortune Island in Batangas, after defeat by the Dutch ship Mauritius. 

Also check out previous posts that narrate the story of the San Diego Shipwreck and some of its archaeological assemblage (Japanese Sword Found in the San Diego Shipwreck)

Storage Jars Found in the San Diego Shipwreck Near Fortune Island in Batangas

Recovered from the shipwreck are more than 800 earthenware and stoneware storage jars from China, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Iberian Peninsula in Europe, highlighting the thriving maritime networks between Asia and the Americas during the late 16th century CE. It also reflects the disorganized loading system as new jars that may have catered to the passengers of high status were added to the large, utilitarian jars that were used for trade. Interestingly, some of the jars have alphanumerical marks possibly denoting ownership.

Storage Jars Found in the San Diego Shipwreck Near Fortune Island in Batangas

The Chinese jars were of at least four types: Tradescant jars, dragon jars, luted jars, and plain and undecorated jars. The Tradescant jar takes after John Tradescant, a botanist who died in 1638 and whose ceramic collection is at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. These jars have distinct green and yellow glazes with relief floral decorations. The dragon jars are generally large, glazed stoneware jars with impressed dragon decorations. Majority of the dragon jars come from the kilns in Guangdong and Fujian Province. 

Diver checking Storage Jars Found in the San Diego Shipwreck Near Fortune Island in Batangas

The luted jars are large, generally black-glazed plain jars with a concave base and four horizontal ears. A distinct process creates the jars, as this involve the joining of two separate parts, one part from the rim to the upper neck while the other part from the upper neck to the base. There was also a number of plain, unglazed jars with four ears and wide shoulders that tapers to a small base.

The Martaban jars are large jars that have dark red stoneware bodies covered by a generally black glaze. The decoration is made of light-colored clay in low relief, either of stripes or rows of buttons resembling rivet heads. This type of jar is a specific name designating exclusively a class of ceramic jars produced in Lower Myanmar (formerly Burma), dispelling the previously known term Martaban jars that connote large Asian storage jars.

The Thai jars are large ovoid jars with wide, short necks with round everted rim, narrow short necks with a round lip, high necks and trumpet-like mouth rims or having long necks with large everted rims. The Mae Nam Noi kilns at Bang Rachan district, Singburi province in central Thailand produce these types of jars.

The jars from the Iberian Peninsula are generally termed Spanish olive jars and may have been loaded from Mexico. These jars have oval, amphora-like shapes that have round bottoms and are mostly arranged in layers, laid side-by-side on a bed of straw or hemp fiber and separated by pieces of wood. The absence of an ear and a neck and the thick edge of the opening gives the impression of an unsophisticated appearance.

Round bullets or musket balls from San Diego Shipwreck

Round bullets or musket balls from San Diego Shipwreck

San Diego is a Manila galleon converted into a warship that sank in 14 December 1600 near Fortune Island, Batangas, after a naval battle with the Dutch ship Mauritius. 

Musket balls or round lead projectiles were used in most muzzle-loading rifles, and nearly all-black powder pistols and cap and ball revolvers from the 13th to 19th centuries Common Era (CE). 

These bullets became essential during Europe’s incessant territorial and trade wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. Their usage continued even after the conical hollowed-out bottom bullets became famous in the early 19th century. Small musket balls were once made by cutting the lead sheet into cubes and then rounding off the corners, either by rubbing with a wooden board or tumbling in a barrel. However, spherical lead balls were best produced with molders brought by soldiers in the battlefield. The residues from the burning gunpowder normally foul up the barrel, making loading difficult; thus, it is important to cast the bullets slightly smaller in diameter than the bore of the gun to avoid this problem. 

Thousands of pieces of musket balls were among the significant finds during the archaeological excavations of the San Diego shipwreck by the World Wide First (WWF) and the #NationalMuseumPH in 1992 and 1993. The projectiles, mostly casted from lead materials except maybe for a few corroded pieces, are of various sizes ranging from approximately 0.46 to 0.94 inches (1.17 to 2.39 cm) in diameter. Most of these shots were fired from .69in to .75in caliber Spanish service muskets, and .71in caliber Spanish cavalry pistols. The smaller bullets may fit as projectiles for harquebusiers while the larger ones were used as projectiles for higher caliber firearms. 

effects of musket balls shot on the human body during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815

Interestingly, these small round lead projectiles are currently not considered as deadly bullets. However, archaeological evidence revealed that musket balls were capable of lethal impacts. In his catalogs, British army surgeon Dr. Charles Bell, documented the effects of musket balls shot on the human body during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Burial and skeletal remains of soldiers, who died and/or were injured during the battle, were seen with tremendous damage caused by musket balls. 


Archaeological study is very important in supporting accurate interpretation of past events, which helps in reconstructing our history. When a site is disturbed or pilfered, we lose information forever without the significant context to assist us in piecing together our story. This is much more valuable than the selfish individual’s monetary gain or enriching their personal collections.

Our heritage and recounting its narrative through material culture benefits future generations and our aspirations as a nation. If you see or have knowledge of sites being looted, report to your local government authorities immediately or contact the closest NMP office near you.

Your #NationalMuseumPH has opened to the public with tours still suspended. In the meantime, know more about our collections through our galleries and this series, and expect an upgraded exhibition on three centuries of maritime trade soon.


Poster, text and photos by the Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Division

Images © Frederic Osada, Gilbert Fournier, Franck Goddio/World Wide First (WWF)

© National Museum of the Philippines 2021

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