At the dawn of the “Golden Age” of piracy, the bejeweled treasures of a Spanish ship were lost to the Caribbean sea in a violent shipwreck. Now, over 350 years later, the long-lost relics of the ill-fated galleon have been raised from the watery depths and will be making their way to the Bahamas Maritime Museum in all their former glory.
The story begins on January 4, 1656, when the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (Our Lady of Wonders) collided with another boat from its fleet and crashed into a coral reef off the Bahamas.
The nearly 900-ton ship was on its way to Spain from Cuba carrying a treasure trove of bounty for the king and wealthy elites back home.
Much of this story only recently came to light thanks to a diving expedition by Allen Exploration, together with Bahamian and US experts, who have committed to putting every one of their discoveries on public display in the Bahamas Maritime Museum. Over the past two years, they have surveyed the area to gain insights into the shipwreck and the lost loot onboard.
“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. 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,” Carl Allen, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and the founder of Allen Exploration, said in a statement sent to IFLScience.
Their work has found a stunning collection of jewelry, gold, Spanish olive jars, Chinese porcelain, iron rigging, coins, and even a silver sword handle that belonged to the soldier Don Martin de Aranda y Gusmán.
The Allen Exploration says that the most stunning finds were jewels associated with the Order of Santiago, Spain’s most prestigious military order. One of the jewels consists of a golden pendant with the Cross of Santiago at its center, designed in the form of a scallop shell and featuring an Indian bezoar stone, commonly used in the past for its supposed healing properties.
Along with grand jewels, it also looks like this ship was carrying a lot of smuggled contraband, which was pretty common at the time.
“The galleon was stuffed with contraband illegally greasing the palms of Spanish merchants and officials,” added Allen. “Our archaeology is finding that most recovered coins were minted in Mexico. But the Maravillas didn’t officially load coins in Mexico. Illegal contraband again raises its suspicious head.”
Unfortunately, the presence of illegal contraband suggests that official records listing what was on the ship are most likely wrong, meaning parts of this ship's story might still be laying on the seabed.