Split Shot Physical Object

Accession Number
Alternate object names
Shot;Cannon Shot;Munition;Ammunition
Creation Date
circa 1620
Complex forms of artillery shot were designed to cut a wider swath than the standard cannonball, making them especially effective at tearing down rigging and sails, or wreaking destruction amongst enemy crew. This “split shot” is made of two cast-iron hemispheres formed around the ends of iron bars. The looped ends of the iron bars are joined by a ring. A pyramid protrudes from the inside face of one of the hemispheres, with a matching recess on the other. When the two hemispheres were put together to create a ball, these forms helped to lock the halves together without slipping. Before firing, the bars were likely bound with crude twine to further hold the piece for loading. The twine would burn away with the blast of the gunpowder, allowing the hemispheres to part and the opened, expanded piece to whirl toward the target.

37.7 x 11.5 x 11.3 cm. (male half: 32.1 x 11.1 x 6.7 cm, female half: 32.6 x 11.0 x 5.5 cm), ring: 6.6 x 6.2 x 1.0 cm. Expanded length: 67.5 cm.

Exhibition Label
Case Caption (2023):

Defending The Ship

Spain’s fleets were always in danger. English, French, and Dutch privateers, as well as pirates of all nations, lurked in the Atlantic. If they could not capture the whole fleet, they might well seize a straggler. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were guard galleons—heavily-armed ships ready to defend the flotilla against all comers.

The galleons’ cannons, capable of delivering powerful broadsides, were the first line of defense. Gunners were highly skilled. They would have started out as common sailors, but they received additional pay when they gained expertise.

Aboard the Atocha, Captain Garcia de Nodal was in charge of the ship’s company of soldiers. They were experienced infantrymen, seasoned in Spain’s endless wars, and they considered themselves superior to the sailors as a result. Despite this attitude, some of them decided to learn seamanship. While they would refuse to help with menial tasks, such as scrubbing the deck, they were often knowledgeable enough to help raise the sails. In times of battle, they might assist with the cannon before hand-to-hand fighting broke out.
Object Caption (2023):

Cannon Split Shot, Barbed Spike Shot, Sliding Bar Shot
Iron (c.1620)
Gift of Jamestown Inc.
1986.008.0584, 1986.008.0826a, 1986.008.1814, 1986.008.1816, 1986.008.1817, 1986.008.2291

These were designed to take out the enemy’s sails and masts. In each case, their two sections would have been bound together with twine but, when they were fired the twine would burn. As they sailed through the air, centrifugal force would have spun the two sections apart, making a much larger projectile.