The 1990-1991 "Tortugas" excavation seasons produced nearly 17,000 artifacts. The artifacts recovered combined with extensive research suggests the wreck is the remains of a 17th-century vessel, likely the Portuguese-built and Spanish-operated 117-ton Buen Jesús y Nuestra Señora del Rosario that sailed with the 1622 Tierra Firme Spanish treasure fleet.
The artifact assemblage recovered from the "Tortugas" wreck contains a diversity of 17th-century items indicative of Spanish colonial trade with the Americas towards the end of Spain’s golden age early in the reign of King Philip IV.
Included in the assemblage are navigational objects, as well as a diversity of articles essential for everyday use aboard the vessel combined with a wealth of precious treasure reaped from Spain’s New World colonies. Importantly, many of the artifacts retrieved from the site—gold bars, silver coins, bronze implements, ceramics, and pearls—help confirm the ship’s Spanish colonial origins and its 1622 wreck date.
The first object recovered from the site was the ship’s bronze bell which was heavily patinated and degraded with a gaping hole present on one side. No decorative symbols or inscriptions are apparent. The shoulder is surmounted by a single suspension canon ring subdivided into three spaces suitable for lifting with a single hand. Ship’s bells were utilized mainly to identify the passage of time during the day, marking the half hours, changes of watch and time for prayers and dinner. The sounding of the bell also warned of danger, fire, fog or an enemy ship. The “Tortugas” bell would almost certainly have been the last sound that rang out wildly as the ship sank in the hurricane of September 5, 1622.