Shipwreck off Florida yields treasures, centuries after Spanish galleon sank


An olive jar is among the everyday items that have recovered. (ODYSSEY MARINE EXPLORATION)

A great superpower, weakened by economic calamity at home and staggering under the debt from years of war in the Middle East, finally collapses.

A new political bestseller, or an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster? No — it’s the story told by a 1622 shipwreck whose treasures were desperately needed to shore up the Spanish Empire.

The galleon Buen Jesus y Nuestra Senora del Rosario was one of 28 ships in the Tierra Firme fleet; all were sailing from the New World back to Spain, laden with colonial treasures, when they were struck by a hurricane off the Florida Keys.

Eight of the ships sank, killing some 500 people and delivering a deathblow to an imperial power, effectively closing the curtain on the Golden Age of Spain.

The shipwreck “is the most important Spanish galleon to be found because of what its loss meant,” Sean Kingsley, a marine archaeologist who has been studying the wreck, told British newspaper the Times last week.

“Its loss broke the Bank of Madrid at a time when there was 300 percent inflation in Spain and it was in serious debt for its endless wars,” said Kingsley, who has written a new book, “Oceans Odyssey 3,” on the excavation of treasure and artifacts from the wreck. “Spain never recovered.”

The ship’s bounty is going on display at the Tampa headquarters of Odyssey Marine Exploration, the outfit that recovered the treasure. The findings are a reflection of the dazzling wealth of Spain’s colonial outposts: More than 6,000 pearls, some of which were the diameter of a nickel when harvested. Silver coins bearing Spain’s imperial stamp. Bars of almost-pure gold and glittering gold necklaces.

Along with these treasures, the shipwreck yielded prosaic reminders of everyday life in the colonial era. Parrot feathers recovered reveal the birds’ value as colorful, talkative pets. Ceramic jars held olives and other food for the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Though the shipwreck was discovered in 1965 when shrimp fishermen pulled up pottery and other artifacts from 1,300 feet below the surface, recovery wasn’t feasible then.

But more recently, by using a remotely operated vehicle archaeologists were able to begin the recovery process from aboard the research vessel Seahawk.

— Live Science

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