They recover a treasure in a Spanish shipwreck from 350 years ago

(CNN) — Stories of buried treasure and ancient shipwrecks have captivated for centuries, from pirate stories to Hollywood blockbusters. However, for a team of explorers, the legend became reality when they discovered a treasure trove of artifacts from a Spanish galleon that sunk 350 years ago, including coins, precious stones and priceless jewelry that once belonged to to sailor gentlemen.

The galleon Nuestra SeƱora de las Maravillas sank in 1656 after colliding with another ship in its fleet and crashing into a coral reef off the Bahamas. The ship was carrying a booty of treasure, some of which was set aside as a royal tax for King Philip IV, from Cuba to Seville, Spain. The 891-tonne ship contained more cargo than usual, as she had also been tasked with transporting treasure recovered from another ship sunk two years earlier.

bahamas spanish shipwreck

Artist’s reconstruction of the Our Lady of Wonders, built in 1647. Credit: Courtesy of the Bahamas Maritime Museum

There have already been several successful attempts to recover the ship’s cargo, with nearly 3.5 million objects recovered between the 1650s and 1990s, according to shipwreck specialist Allen Exploration, which carried out a two-year expedition starting in 2020. .

But the latest discoveries, on display this month at the new Bahamas Maritime Museum, offer a new insight into life aboard the ship. In collaboration with local divers, archaeologists and other experts, the researchers are also in the process of “pieced together the mystery of how the ship capsized and fell apart,” the project’s marine archaeologist James Sinclair said in a news release.

Using remote sensing technology such as sonar and magnetometers, Allen Exploration tracked “a long, winding trail of debris” scattered across an 8-mile stretch of seafloor, founder Carl Allen added in a statement.


A glass wine bottle, one of many objects that shed light on life on board the ship. Credit: Courtesy of the Bahamas Maritime Museum

Among the discoveries is a 1.76-meter-long gold filigree chain and several gemstone charms that once belonged to knights of the Order of Santiago, a centuries-old religious and military order. One of the gold pendants features a large oval Colombian emerald and a dozen smaller emeralds, which experts believe may represent the 12 apostles, alongside the Cross of Santiago. Three other gentleman’s charms were also discovered, including one in the shape of a golden scallop shell.

“When we brought out the oval emerald and gold pendant, I felt the wind go out of me,” Allen said, adding, “How these little pendants survived in these harsh waters, and how we managed to find them, is the miracle of Wonderland.” “.

Other recovered artifacts shed light on daily life on the Maravillas, which sailed during the “Spanish Golden Age,” including Chinese porcelain and olive jugs, as well as a silver sword handle. Some of the galleon’s valuable contents may also have been smuggled in order to “illegally facilitate proceedings with Spanish merchants and officials,” Allen said.

A gold and emerald pendant belonging to a knight of the Order of Santiago, with a cross of Santiago in the center. Credit: Courtesy of the Bahamas Maritime Museum

The artifacts discovered by Allen’s team will be on permanent display at the Bahamas Maritime Museum, which opens Aug. 8 in the Caribbean country’s second-largest city, Freeport.

And Sinclair thinks there are still more discoveries to be made.

“The ship may have been destroyed by salvage and hurricanes in the past… But we are convinced there are more stories out there,” he said.

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