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Timbers of 'Beeswax Wreck’ recovered on Oregon coast

Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue Chief Chris Beswick, left, marine archaeologist James Delgado, center, and Justin Parker, North Coast district manager for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, right, haul in a timber believed to be part of a more than 300-year-old shipwreck, Santo Cristo de Burgos, also known as the Beeswax Wreck.[Courtesy photo from Katie Frankowicz / KMUN]

Researchers believe they have found timbers from a 300-year old Spanish galleon along Oregon's north coast, according to National Geographic.

“The extraordinarily rare hull remains were removed from sea caves near Manzanita in June in a risky emergency recovery mission involving archaeologists, law enforcement personnel and search-and-rescue teams from multiple state and local agencies,” National Geographic states in an online article.

The discovery was made in 2019 after a beachgoer spotted the remains, but the pandemic and permitting requirements slowed retrieval of the timbers.

“The dozen timbers are believed to be pieces of the Santo Cristo de Burgos, a Spanish galleon that was sailing from the Philippines to Mexico in 1693 when it veered off course and vanished, most likely wrecking on what’s now the Oregon Coast. Its cargo included costly Chinese silk, porcelain and blocks of beeswax for making candles,” the National Geographic online report states.

State geologists traveled to the site June 14 to begin the recovery.

Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue Chief Chris Beswick said he and a NBFR crew of four assisted state geologists in retrieving the timbers.

“There are a couple of caves where some artifacts had washed up, primarily the wood pieces,” he said. “The main piece that we brought in looks like a main timber from the ship. It is about 6 feet long. It was very heavy.”

Beswick said his crew, using jet skis, navigated the large timber from the cave through the water to the beach, about 200 feet, then carried it to a waiting trailer on shore.

“We also helped bring in several other smaller pieces of wood,” he said. “The state geologists were very excited about them.”

Beswick said the timber recovery was a unique experience and a first-time event for him and the fire crew.

“I never expected in my career as a firefighter that I would be recovering artifacts from a shipwreck,” he said.

National Geographic reports the timbers are now at the Columbia Maritime Museum to be documented and conserved.

Oregon State Parks spokesman Chris Havel said this can be a significant discovery that underscores the importance of Oregon’s history.

“Hands down, this is an exciting development,” Havel said. “It may well be true that it wouldn’t have been possible if the ocean shore wasn’t protected by the 1967 Beach Bill, so thank Os West and Tom McCall and all the people who worked in the past to make the ocean shore a public place, and who work day in and day out right now to keep protecting it. We look forward to learning what researchers can tell us about the recovered timbers, so we can share that news with the people who visit.”

According to Havel, state parks protect lands that tell many human stories, starting with the tribes that have lived here for thousands of years, right up to today.

“It’s important to recognize the full breadth and depth of that experience and implore everyone to do their part to protect these places,” he said. “As a visitor, that means respecting each other and any signs or warnings you may see and refraining from searching for artifacts or taking anything from the park other than the memories of a fun, safe visit. It’s not just the law; it’s the right thing to do.”

Havel urges anyone visiting the state parks who may find a suspected cultural resource, either on the beach or the surrounding area, to leave the suspected resource in place, do not disturb them and contact the park office.

“Cultural resources are protected under state law, both on public and private lands,” Havel said.

For more information about cultural resources and Oregon archaeological laws, visit the State Historic Preservation Office website at www.oregon.gov/oprd/oh/pages/default.aspx

Beeswax Wreck research available free online

For centuries, beeswax and Chinese porcelain have washed ashore on Nehalem Spit, on the north Oregon Coast.

After years of research in archives around the world, in combination with archaeological evidence, scholars were able to point to the Santo Cristo de Burgos, a 17th-century Manila galleon owned by the kingdom of Spain, as the mysterious vessel commonly known today as the “Beeswax Wreck.”

On June 16, National Geographic announced that state officials had confirmed the recovery of timbers from the Santo Cristo de Burgos near Manzanita.

In summer 2018, the Oregon Historical Society’s scholarly journal, the Oregon Historical Quarterly, published a ground-breaking special issue on this research, a powerful combination of archaeological and archival evidence solving this centuries-old mystery. In light of the recent discovery of remains from the wreck, OHS has made this special issue of OHQ, “Oregon’s Manila Galleon,” available for free online at www.ohs.org/oregon-historical-quarterly/back-issues/summer-2018.cfm