Olive Jar Physical Object

Accession Number
Creation Date
circa 1620
A bulbous, egg-shaped earthenware olive jar was carried on the 1622 galleon Atocha. A large portion of the side was damaged, likely because ceramic paste was not sufficiently dried before firing, and it blistered, with the exterior surface of the bubble broken away. This damage must have breached the jar because it was sealed and repaired in antiquity with resinous pitch. Other cracks and a broken, missing section are the result of the forces of the shipwreck. The term “olive jar” is a bit of a misnomer assigned to these vessels by a US archaeologist in the early 20th century: Though they could have carried olives, these amphoras more commonly carried wine, oil, and vinegar.

53.0 by 23.0 cm.

Exhibition Label
Case Caption:
Object Caption: OLIVE JARS Earthenware (c.1620) Gift of Jamestown Inc., Museum Purchase Fund 1986.008.0841, 1986.008.0852, 1986.008.0891,1986.008.1106-7 1986.008.1110, 2004.006.0002-11 Spanish galleons are particularly known for their profusion of earthenware containers. Varying in size, these held items that ranged from water and wine to medicine and even olives. Sealed with a wooden bung at the top, they were watertight, and their shape made it easy to stack them on a lower deck, leaning against each other and not likely to roll. Some people marked their jars with their logos to make sure they received the right goods. While many broken jars were found on the wreck sites of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita, the intact jars came from a smaller ship in the fleet, the Buen ]esus.
Previous Exhibit Case Caption: Removed 2022. Large Olive Jars Recovered from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha Earthenware, c. 1620 Gift of Jamestown Treasure Salvors, Inc. 86.08.1106, 86.08.1107 These earthenware jugs were carried by the hundreds on virtually all Spanish ships of the time. They were used primarily to transport wine, but also carried water, vinegar, and various foodstuffs. Their egg-shaped design was actually a strong and time-tested one descended from the Roam amphora.