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(Credit: NOAA)

Art

Priceless artefacts recovered on a 350-year-old shipwreck in the Bahamas

A recent expedition searching the depths of the Atlantic Ocean has recovered priceless treasures from a 350-year-old Spanish shipwreck in the Bahamas.

The artefacts, which include jewel-encrusted pendants and gold chains, will be displayed at the new Bahamas Maritime Museum from the beginning of next week.

The Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (translated as ‘Our Lady of Wonders’) sank with a cargo of gold, silver, and gems on the western side of the Little Bahama Bank in 1656. The Spanish galleon was part of a fleet sailing to Spain from Havana with royal treasures from the Americas. Historical accounts report that the ship collided with the flagship of the fleet and struck a shallow reef before sinking into the ocean. Of the 650 people on board, only 45 survived.

Despite years of repeated ransacking, a team led by Allen Exploration and licensed by the island’s government launched a new expedition to retrace the ship and search for lost treasure.

The Bahamian and US marine archaeologists and divers found scattered across the ocean floor a nearly two-pound, six-foot-long gold filigree chain with rosette motifs, which would have been made for either wealthy aristocrats or royalty; a gold pendant depicting the Cross of Santiago framed by 12 green oval emeralds; and a scallop-shaped Indian bezoar stone, which was valued in Europe for its healing properties and was a symbol for travellers on the religious Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. The stone is among the finds linked to the military-religious knights’ Order of Santiago, who protected pilgrims on their journeys and took part in Spain’s maritime trade.

“When we brought up the oval emerald and gold pendant, my breath caught in my throat,” Carl Allen, founder of Allen Exploration, told the Guardian. “I feel a greater connection with everyday finds than coins and jewels, but these Santiago finds bridge both worlds.”

He added, “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 founded Allen Exploration after retiring from the plastics industry to become a philanthropist. His team uses state-of-the-art technology to trace how the ship fell to its resting position and locate the wreckage trail. Concurrently, the team are collecting data on the health of the nearby coral reefs, seafloor geology and plastic pollution levels. 

The newly recovered artefacts remain property of the Bahamian government, and Allen Exploration is sponsoring the Bahamas Maritime Museum, which opens on August 8th in Freeport, where the items will be on display.