Marlinspike Physical Object

Accession Number
Alternate object names
Fid;Spike;Marlin Spike
Creation Date
circa 1620
An iron marlinspike from the wreck of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, sunk in 1622. The marlinspike was a hand-held iron pin that tapered to a point. It was used by sailors to separate strands of rope for splicing and to undo knots. This example is 25.8 centimeters long (10 inches). It is pierced at the butt end, so it could be looped with a cord for carrying or hanging. Similar devices made of wood are called fids.


25.7 cm L , Item (Overall)

25.7 x 2.8 x 2.6 cm

Exhibition Label
Case Caption (2023): 

Sailing The Ship

A galleon was a complex vessel, requiring expert handling at all levels. Both sailors and officers might develop a specialty, but they had to be able to perform a variety of jobs, as required. It was hard and sometimes dangerous work—a fall from the rigging either onto the deck or into the sea could prove fatal. Rations were poor and shipboard discipline was harsh. However, ordinary sailors were better paid than peasants or laborers, and they often enjoyed a sense of adventure.

Ideally, sailors of every rank went to sea as children and learned their trades by practical experience and apprenticeship. Many youngsters came from seafaring families, following in their elders’ footsteps. Others were running away from their families and eager to start their own lives.
Object Caption (2023):

Iron (c.1620)
Gift of Jamestown Inc.

A marlinspike was used to pick rope apart to re-weave two pieces and make a strong joint.