First Ever Mayan Slave Ship Discovered by Archaeologists


  • Archaeologists in Mexico confirm the discovery of a shipwreck off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula once carried captured Mayans who were sold into slavery.
  • It is the first Mayan slave ship ever discovered, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
  • The paddle wheel steamboat, known as “La Unión”.
  • It was discovered by archaeologists in the Gulf of Mexico two nautical miles from Sisal in 2017.
  • It took three years of research to confirm that it was a Mayan slave ship.

Mexican archaeologists identify the first Mayan slave ship to have ever been discovered, writes Alaa Elassar for the CNN.

History of the ship

  • La Unión illegally captured and transported about 25 to 30 Mayans monthly to Cuba.
  • There they were forced to work in sugarcane fields between 1855 and 1861.
  • This was during the rebellion known as the Caste War, according to INAH.

“Each slave was sold to middlemen for 25 pesos, and they resold them in Havana for as much as 160 pesos, for men, and 120 pesos for women,” INAH archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke said in a press release.

Ship sinks en route to Cuba

The ship sunk on September 19, 1861 while en route to Cuba, proving that slavery continued despite having been abolished in Mexico in 1829 and a decree issued banning the forced extraction of Mayan people that same year.

Ominous past for Mexico

“For researchers … the discovery is highly relevant,” INAH said in the release. “Beyond the difficulty in identifying a wreck by name, it also speaks to an ominous past for Mexico that should be acknowledged and studied in terms of its context and time.”

Boilers give the clue for ship identification

Archaeologists confirmed the identity of the ship from its boilers, which exploded and caused the boat to catch fire, as well as the wooden hulled side wheeler which had been preserved.

They also found artifacts, including fragments of glass from bottles, ceramics, and eight brass cutlery used by first-class passengers on board.

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Source: CNN