Marine archaeologists have recovered a trove of missing gold, silver and gems from a 350-year-old shipwreck hidden beneath the Bahamas’ waters.
The priceless artifacts were once on board the Spanish galleon ‘Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas’ (Our Lady of Wonders, quite literally!). Laden with treasure from the Americas, the ship was part of a fleet that began sailing from Havana to Spain in 1656. But it soon collided with the fleet’s flagship due to several navigational errors. It hit a reef in shallow waters on the western side of the Little Bahama Bank. Only 45 people survived of the 650 travelling on the ship.
Following years of repeated ransacking, the Bahamian government licensed Allen Exploration to scientifically explore the shipwreck with Bahamian and US marine archaeologists and divers. The team is using cutting-edge technology to track and publish data on nearby coral reefs, seafloor geology, and plastic pollution. The project marine archaeologist James Sinclair explained that the data will also help reconstruct “the mystery of how the ship was wrecked and fell apart.”
“The wreck of the galleon had a tough history – heavily salvaged by Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Bahamian and American expeditions in the 17th and 18th centuries and blitzed by salvors from the 1970s to early 1990s,” recalled Carl Allen, founder of Allen Exploration. “Some say the remains were ground to dust. Using modern technology and hard science, we’re now tracking a long and winding debris trail of finds.”
Amongst the debris trail, Allen’s team discovered a plethora of hidden treasures. An elaborate gold filigree chain, a gold pendant bearing the Cross of Santiago (St James) and an Indian bezoar stone, another pendant featuring the Cross of Santiago over a large oval emerald, and more clusters of emeralds and amethysts were amongst the exquisite pieces buried under the dense sand.
“When we brought up the oval emerald and gold pendant, my breath caught in my throat,” said Allen. “The pendant mesmerises me when I hold it and think about its history. How these tiny pendants survived in these harsh waters, and how we managed to find them, is the miracle of the Maravillas.”
The glittering discoveries will remain the property of the Bahamian government and will be on display at the new Bahamas Maritime Museum in Freeport from 8 August 2022.