Andy Matroci and the crew of the Magruder recently brought in a very interesting artifact from the
Atocha wreck site that has been dubbed the 400-year-old mystery. It came into the lab as an encrusted
object and just this week John was able to finish removing the encrustation from the “Breech Chamber”
and it is now in electrolysis.
The chamber is wrought iron and the handle is forged on which means that it is not all one piece.
It would go into a wrought iron verso and was pre- loaded with gunpowder to be ready to use at a
moments notice. Scrap metal or gunners dice would also be loaded in to make the weapon even more
deadly. A wedge would then be driven in behind the breech chamber to secure it and prevent gases
from leaking out which would have caused it to be less powerful. This was used more for close
range targets as in anti-personnel shots for example because despite their attempts to prevent
gas leaks, it still occurred and therefore the weapon wasn’t effective at longer ranges.
So why is this weapon called the 400 year old mystery? Simply put it is a weapon from the 1500s and
should not have been on the Atocha in 1622 at all. By the time the Atocha sailed this relatively
ineffective weapon had been fazed out and replace by more conventional style iron swivel guns and
by the bronze cannons that were listed on the manifest of the Atocha. There is no mention of this
type of weapon anywhere in the records including the manifest or in the accounts of survivors.
Based on our preliminary research there are two theories. First, it could have been used as ballast being
that it weighs approximately 100 lbs. The second is that they could have been saving it to melt down
because; surprisingly enough in that time iron was quite valuable.
John estimates the breech chamber will spend about one year in electrolysis to fully remove all of the
salt content from this very dense artifact. After is it conserved we will have more information on the
history of this quite intriguing artifact. At this point we will photograph it and create an update on
our website, so be sure to look back to find out what else we can learn about the mystery breech chamber.
John displaying the breech chamber after removing the concretion.
Spraying the artifact with water because it must remain wet while using the air scribe.
Another angle of the breech chamber.
John completing the finishing touches with the air scribe.
Pointing to the touch hole where it would be lit.