After 350 years, the sea renounces the lost jewels of the Spanish shipwreck | Archeology


She was a Spanish galleon laden with treasures so lavish that her sinking in the Bahamas in 1656 sparked repeated salvage attempts over the next 350 years. So when another expedition was launched recently, few thought there might be anything left – but exquisite, jewel-encrusted gold pendants and chains are among the spectacular finds that have now been recovered, remained intact on the seabed for hundreds of years.

The Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas (Our Lady of Wonders) descended on the west side of Little Bahama Bank, more than 70 km offshore, but the newly discovered treasures were discovered on a vast trail of debris stretching more than 13 km.

Allen Exploration, with marine archaeologists and divers from the Bahamas and the United States, has been licensed by the Bahamian government to explore the maravillas scientifically and is committed to displaying the findings in a new museum in the Bahamas.

An elaborate gold filigree chain, with rosette motifs, is among the treasures that suggest some of the finds were intended for wealthy aristocrats, if not royalty. A gold pendant bearing the Cross of Saint James (Saint-Jacques) and an Indian bezoar stone, then prized in Europe for its healing properties, is shaped like a scallop shell, a symbol recognized by pilgrims visiting in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. It is part of the finds linked to the Sacred Order of Santiago, a military-religious order of knights, which protected pilgrims and was active in Spanish maritime trade.

Map of the Bahamas

Another pendant features a gold cross of St. James Santiago on a large green oval emerald framed by a dozen square emeralds, possibly symbolizing the 12 apostles.

Clusters of emeralds and amethysts mined in Colombia and now recovered offer evidence of contraband trafficking as they were not recorded on the manifest.

Dr Sean Kingsley, English marine archaeologist and editor of Wreckwatch magazine that will feature the findings in an upcoming issue, told the Observer that such “wonders” are particularly dramatic because they were in the middle of nowhere, under dense sand. “It’s a successful archaeological keyhole surgery,” he said.

The maravillas, named after a “miraculous” sculpture of the Virgin Mary from the 13th century in a convent in Madrid, was part of a fleet. He was returning to Spain from Havana with treasures from the Americas, royal and private shipments, as well as contraband and a sumptuous cargo rescued from another Spanish galleon wrecked off Ecuador.

Artist’s rendering of Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, built in 1647. Photography: ©Allen Exploration

But around midnight on January 4, 1656, it sank, following a navigation error by avoiding shallow waters. Colliding with her flagship of the fleet, she struck a reef and only 45 of the 650 people on board survived. Many have been eaten by sharks.

Allen Exploration was founded by Carl Allen, who built a successful plastics business before taking early retirement, becoming a philanthropist and explorer with two passions: the Bahamas and its sunken past.

“When we brought the oval emerald and gold pendant, my breath caught in my throat,” he said. “I feel a greater connection to everyday finds than to coins and jewelry, but these finds from Santiago connect the two worlds. The pendant hypnotizes me when I hold it and think of its history.How these tiny pendants survived in these harsh waters, and how we managed to find them, is the miracle of the maravillas.”

He added: “The Galleon wreck had a difficult 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 into the early 1970s. 1990. Some say the remains have been reduced to dust.Using modern technology and hard science, we are now following a long, winding trail of debris of discoveries.

A golden filigree chain of the Maravillas.
A golden filigree chain of the Maravillas. Photography: Nathaniel Harrington

He was convinced that the whole ship was not destroyed and gathered a team and ships to search for the lost stern castle, which would have broken loose and drifted away. But he wanted to study the wreck archaeologically, unlike his predecessors who published no science and simply sold off the finds.

His team uses cutting-edge science to determine how the maravillas was destroyed and then dispersed by centuries of hurricanes.

The expedition is also collecting data on reef health, seabed geology and plastic pollution to understand how archeology and the marine environment interact.

“The bottom of the sea is barren,” Allen said. “The colorful coral that divers remembered from the 70s is gone, poisoned by ocean acidification and smothered by meters of shifting sand. It’s painfully sad. Still lying on these dead gray reefs, however, are sparkling finds.

The team recorded the stone ballast, the iron ties that once held the hull together, and the iron rings and pins of the rigging. Evidence of meals on board, from olive pots to Chinese and Mexican plates, and personal effects, including a soldier’s silver sword hilt and a pearl ring, were also found.

All wrecks in Bahamian waters are owned by the Bahamian government, and Allen Exploration is keeping the finds together by sponsoring the Bahamas Maritime Museum, which opens Aug. 8 in Freeport.


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