We’re all familiar with modern shipping container spills washing up on beaches around the world – Rubber duckies, fly swatters, plastic chairs, Doritos, Legos, and of course Nike sneakers – they’ve all been “listicled” to death.
But surprisingly, flotsam from the cargo holds of “pre-container” ships – from Spanish galleons to early 20th Century war vessels – also washes ashore regularly. To this day beachcombers around the world continue to find such treasures as counterfeit English half-pennies; 300 year old beeswax; and mysterious rubbery slabs, lost to the sea on their way to becoming teddy bear noses and fireman hoses.
Today my story of five of these doomed shipments appears in Hakai Magazine’s “5 Things” column. Individually, they are an odd mix. Together they reflect centuries of cross-oceanic trade and the perils that come with that. But as well, some are cause to reflect on the trivial nature of modern flotsam when compared to the necessities and lives lost in shipwrecks of earlier eras.
Read the story here: When History Washes Ashore Then come back and tell me what exciting things you’ve found on the shore.
Marvelous article. My book “The Wind in the Bamboo: A Journey in Search of Asia’s ’Negrito’ Indigenous People” ends with my search here in Oregon for the shipwreck beeswax, because the Spanish galleon’s cargo may have been gathered by the indigenous people of the Philippines about whom I was writing. I didn’t find beeswax on the beach (only surfer’s board wax) but there are excellent examples in the Tillamook Museum, as well as an enchanting Native American arrow with an arrowhead made of Chinese porcelain — another shipwreck treasure.
Thank you Edith. That’s fascinating. There seems an irony in the fact that the beeswax was collected by one group of indigenous people and profited another indigenous group all in the failed interest of making rich the colonists and traders who commissioned and shipped it.