It's been some four years since researchers discovered a shipwreck at the mouth of Panama's Chagres River; now, they're finally revealing its secrets. The Encarnacíon, built in Mexico, sank in 1681, and it tells a tale of a key historical moment, archaeologist Filipe Castro tells National Geographic: "It is the rise of capitalism, imperialism, rationalism, and the middle classes that are going to buy art and consume literature." This particular ship was a cargo vessel that belonged to Spain's Tierra Firme fleet—ships that "were the backbone of the Spanish colonies," says research head Fritz Hanselmann. The ships hauled gold and silver from Mexico and Peru to Europe and returned with goods to sell in the New World, National Geographic explains.
What makes this particular ship "extraordinarily significant" is that it's incredibly well preserved, archaeologist Melanie Damour says in a Texas State University press release. That's thanks to the fact that it was buried in 3 feet of mud, Hanselmann tells the Houston Chronicle. What's more, unlike many similar finds, it hasn't been looted. That has led researchers to all kinds of artifacts, ranging from sword blades and scissors to mule shoes and ceramics, the Chronicle reports. The detailed findings come after researchers pored though Spanish archives—but the initial discovery was an accident, National Geographic notes. Researchers were actually looking for the ships of Captain Henry Morgan, an English pirate who lost five ships at the mouth of the Chagres a decade earlier. (Another fascinating undersea find this month: a 1468 wreck carrying millions of dollars' worth of coins.)