A team of Brazilian archaeologists and divers who discovered the remains of a Spanish vessel off the southern state of Santa Catarina say the recovered fragments correspond to a shipwreck that occurred in 1583.

The recovered pieces and the documentary review indicate the wreck was a supply ship for a fleet that left Spain in 1581 on a mission to build two forts on the Strait of Magellan to stymie the advance of English pirates menacing Madrid's territories in the New World.

Historical documents make mention of the Jan. 7, 1583 shipwreck off Brazil's coast.

"On March 14, we'll begin a new round of diving to try to recover the maximum number of pieces possible," Beth Karam, spokeswoman for the Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina, told Efe.

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The shipwreck was located in an area off the Pinheira and Sonho beaches near Florianopolis, Santa Catarina's capital.

The find is attributed to divers with the Barra Sul Project, an organization that was founded in 2005 to search for underwater archaeological remains off Santa Catarina's coast and which so far has located three 16th century shipwrecks.

The first recovered fragment from this latest find was a stone with a high-relief shield of two lions and two castles with a Portuguese symbol in the center.

That shield dates back to the kingdoms of Leon and Castile and the 1580-1640 Iberian Union, when the monarchies of Spain and Portugal were unified.

The divers also recovered a triangular plaque dated 1582 and containing the name of Spain's King Philip II. According to investigators, the plaque may have been an emblem that navigators used to lay claim to territories they had explored for the first time.

In the underwater expeditions scheduled for March, the divers will try to recover a cannon, ceramic fragments, ballast stones and cannon shells that had been spotted on a previous dive.

The divers' work depends on the degree of visibility and the ocean currents.

Santa Catarina's coastline, which in the 16th century still had not been colonized by Portugal, was a route for several Spanish expeditions starting in 1525, when Rodrigo de Acuña left 17 of his crew on an island that today is the city of Florianopolis.

Exploration in that part of present-day Brazil included the 1526-1527 venture of Sebastian Cabot and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, who disembarked in that region in 1541 before traveling overland to Paraguay. The members of that exhibition became the first Europeans to see the Iguazu Falls.

The Barra Sul Project, so-named because its research focuses on the southern canal that provides access to Florianopolis Island, regards that region as a veritable ship graveyard since it was the last port for southbound vessels before their arrival in the River Plate estuary. 

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