Huge priceless treasure haul found on 350-year-old Spanish galleon now a Bahamas shipwreck

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge go sailing in the Bahamas

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The Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, which translates into English as Our Lady of Wonders, sank in 1656 after colliding with another boat. It crashed into a coral reef off the Bahamas, carrying a haul of treasure which included taxes from Cuba destined for King Philip IV of Spain.

The 891-ton vessel was carrying extra cargo as it was transporting treasure retrieved from a ship which sank two years earlier.

Successful bids to retrieve the Maravillas’s treasures have been made before with 3.5million items brought back from the depths between the 1650s and 1990s, according to Allen Exploration which carried out its own expedition.

The latest discoveries are to go on display from August 8 at the Bahamas Maritime Museum.

Marine archaeologist James Sinclair said in a statement the researchers are also in the process of reconstructing the mystery of how the ship was wrecked and fell apart.

Allen Exploration founder Carl Allen said the team used remote-sensing technology, such as sonar and magnetometers, to track a long and winding debris trail of finds scattered over an eight mile (13km) stretch of ocean floor.

A 1.76-metre-long, gold filigree chain and bejewelled pendants which once belonged to knights of the Order of Santiago were among the discoveries.

One of the gold pendants features an oval, Colombian emerald with a dozen smaller emeralds.

Experts believe these may represent the 12 apostles alongside the Cross of St. James.

Three other pendants were discovered, including one which resembles a golden scallop shell.

Mr Allen said: “When we brought up the oval emerald and gold pendant, my breath caught in my throat.

“How these tiny pendants survived in these harsh waters – and how we managed to find them – is the miracle of the Maravillas.”

Other artefacts including Chinese porcelain, olive jars and a silver sword handle were also recovered from the wreck.

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Mr Allen said some of the galleon’s treasure may also have been contraband which would have been used to illegally grease the palms of Spanish merchants and officials.

Mr Sinclair added there may be more precious items yet to be discovered.

He said: “The ship may have been obliterated by past salvage and hurricanes… But we’re convinced there are more stories out there.”

The Maravillas was a two-deck Spanish galleon armed with 36 bronze cannons.

It was serving as the Almirante (vice-flagship) of the Tierra Firme (Mainland) fleet when it sank.

The ship left southern Spain on July 10, 1654, reaching Cartagena in Colombia on August 22 of the same year.

Vessels waited there for word that silver from Bolivia and Peru had reached Portobello in Panama.

The Jesus Maria de la Limpia Concepción of the South Sea Armada sank on a reef off Ecuador on October 27 so the Maravillas was forced to spend the winter in Cartagena to avoid hurricanes, pick up the Jesus Maria’s salvaged silver and await fresh cargo.

But the Maravillas sank off Little Bahama Bank on January 4, 1656, after the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción flagship ran into it.

The majority of the 650-strong crew on the galleon grabbed hold of floating debris and drifted away, never to be seen again.

About 150 clung to pieces of the galleon still above the water.

Most of the crew died from exposure during the night or were eaten by sharks. Only 45 people survived with about 600 people lost.

For more about the Maravillas visit Bahamas Maritime Museum.

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