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Healthy jewels, buried treasure unearthed in Bahamas from iconic 17th-century Spanish shipwreck

Written by Javed Iqbal

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Talk about one find.

A treasure trove of jewels, lockets and historical artifacts has been uncovered in the Bahamas dating back to the legendary 17th century shipwreck of the Maravilla – and the public is about to get a look at it.

Our Lady of Wonders, a two-decker Spanish galleonsank on 4 January 1656 off the Little Bahama Bank in the northern Bahamas on a voyage to Seville from Cuba.

It had carried numerous treasures of both royal treasure and private property.

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The 891-tonne ship went down after colliding with its navy’s flagship.

It hit a reef 30 minutes later – and eventually sank.

An illustration of Our Lady of Wonder's Spanish galleon, which sank in 1656.

An illustration of Our Lady of Wonder’s Spanish galleon, which sank in 1656.
(Allen Exploration)

The remains of the vessel were scattered several miles across the ocean, with no significant part of the ship left behind.

For more than 360 years, archaeologists and adventurers have tried to locate the debris lost in the wreckage.

And while much of the treasure – an estimated 3.5 million pieces out of eight – was salvaged between 1656 and the early 1990s, modern technology such as high-resolution magnetometers, improved GPS and metal detecting has enabled Allen Exploration to bring riches to the surface beyond one’s imagination.

An explorer holds a gold coin found in the Bahamas as an Allen Exploration boat can be seen in the distance.

An explorer holds a gold coin found in the Bahamas as an Allen Exploration boat can be seen in the distance.
(Brendan Chavez/Allen Exploration)

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Allen Exploration founder Carl Allen said he and his team began pulling up precious artifacts in July 2020 near Walker’s Cay.

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High-tech tools, plus the official permission they were given by the Bahamian government to search the northern Bahamas area – known to be a wreck hotspot – have made “pretty amazing” discoveries, the entrepreneur said.

“We’ve found thousands of artifacts,” he said.

An Allen Exploration fleet is shown in Bahamian waters.

An Allen Exploration fleet is shown in Bahamian waters.
(Brendan Chavez/Allen Exploration)

“Cannons, anchors, emeralds and amethysts … We’re up to about 3,000 silver coins and 25 gold coins,” he said.

The water in the area only reaches up to 50 feet deep, while the sand can bury treasure down to 20 feet, he revealed.

Still, that didn’t stop Allen from proving his doubters wrong and discovering treasures that took his breath away.

Allen Exploration founder Carl Allen, shown with his wife, Gigi, holding up an amethyst found at a wreck in the Bahamas.

Allen Exploration founder Carl Allen, shown with his wife, Gigi, holding up an amethyst found at a wreck in the Bahamas.
(Matthew Rissell/Allen Exploration)

“When I pulled up the first valuable item, I lost my breath,” he said. “I could not breathe.”

“I’ve been thinking about this all my life.”

The fascinating finds also include Spanish olive jars, Chinese porcelain and iron rigging, according to an AllenX press release.

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The team also discovered a silver sword hilt belonging to the soldier Don Martin de Aranda y Gusmán; the item helped the teams identify these treasures as belonging to the sunken Maravillas.

A golden pendant with the cross of Santiago was designed in the shape of a scallop shell.

Four pendants worn by members of the Order of Saint Santiago, a religious order of knights active in Spanish maritime trade, were also found.

AllenX considered the Santiago jewels to be the “star finds” so far.

A golden pendant with the cross of Santiago was designed in the shape of a scallop shell.

It is enhanced by what appears to be an Indian bezoar stone – a famous European stone known for its healing properties.

A golden pendant appears to hold an Indian bezoar stone.

A golden pendant appears to hold an Indian bezoar stone.
(Nathaniel Harrington/Allen Exploration)

Another golden pendant bears the same cross over a large, egg-shaped Colombian emerald.

Three gold chains were recovered, including an 887-gram gold filigree chain consisting of 80 circular links and decorated with four-lobed rosettes, most likely made in the Philippines, the group said.

A golden pendant with the cross of Santiago was designed in the shape of a scallop shell.

AllenX indicated that no exact copies of the chain exist from other excavations in museum collections or as seen in Spanish portrait art.

This 887-gram gold filigree chain, consisting of 80 circular links and decorated with four-lobed rosettes, is most likely made in the Philippines.

This 887-gram gold filigree chain, consisting of 80 circular links and decorated with four-lobed rosettes, is most likely made in the Philippines.
(Nathaniel Harrington/Allen Exploration)

Allen Exploration archaeologist Jim Sinclair told Fox News Digital that these artifacts reveal how people lived in colonial times and in the New World.

As an archaeologist of 40 years and an original explorer of iconic wrecks such as the Titanic, Sinclair said a recovery like the Maravillas reflects a “fantastic leap” in technology.

The archaeologist also considered the artifact analysis to be a “really good development” in terms of discovering human behavior and history.

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Although the value of these artifacts most likely adds up to millions of dollars, the items are priceless, said Bill Springer, Allen Exploration’s spokesman.

None of Allen Exploration’s discoveries will be auctioned or for sale.

Instead, the finds will become part of an exhibit at Allen Exploration’s Bahamas Maritime Museum, located at the Port Lucaya Marketplace in Freeport.

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The museum opens on Saturday 6 August 2022.

It will reveal other exhibits on the maritime history of the Bahamas, as well as the transatlantic slave trade and the Lucayan people.

Only 45 survivors

The Maravillas exhibition also shows the story of the ship’s demise.

Of the nearly 650 passengers on board the ship, only 45 are known to have survived.

No human remains have been found.

Divers are shown digging for buried treasure at the bottom of the ocean - the site of a shipwreck in the Bahamas.

Divers are shown digging for buried treasure at the bottom of the ocean – the site of a shipwreck in the Bahamas.
(Chad Bagwell/Allen Exploration)

The sinking was a “huge blow,” Allen explained, as Spain was struggling economically at the time and the boat was crammed with valuables.

It was one of the largest treasure ships ever to leave India — and so Allen said he expects more artifacts to be uncovered still.

The “Mother Lode” has yet to be discovered.

The “Mother Lode” has yet to be discovered, he indicated; and when it is, he said the tow would be “extremely valuable.”

“The manifest usually on these old ships, a lot of times – it was only about half of what was on the ship because there was so much contraband,” he said.

“So that’s what’s exciting.”

Divers explore a wreck site in the Bahamas.

Divers explore a wreck site in the Bahamas.
(Brendan Chavez/Allen Exploration)

Along with the launch of the museum, Allen furthers his passion for discovery and education by developing underwater archeology programs for Bahamian children.

“The big problem is, [the debris] won’t stay there forever,” he said.

“And it’s a playground for shipwrecks.”

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“So I created a way for other people to do this — and I welcome that.”

Allen Explorations Bahamas Maritime Museum in Freeport, Grand Bahama, will open on August 6, 2022.

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Javed Iqbal

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