On June 8, 1708, the Spanish galleon San Jose engaged with British fleets during a War of Spanish Succession battle. While en route to the Colombian port city of Cartegena, the vessel was carrying precious cargo, laden with jewels and precious metals—a bounty that was going to be channeled toward war efforts. Instead, the ship exploded and sank during the battle, and the treasure ended up at the bottom of the ocean. Now, Marketwatch reports that researchers have recovered the haul—and the legendary hoard, possibly the biggest sunken treasure finding ever, could be worth billions of dollars.
The Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, the country's navy, and a group of international scientists discovered the San Jose off Colombia’s coast on November 27. "This constitutes one of the greatest—if not the biggest as some say—discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said.
While the ship’s precise whereabouts are still being kept under wraps, the Colombian government has shared a video of its ruins with the public. And the findings—which include cannons, guns, pottery, and other historic objects—will be showcased in a special new museum built in Cartagena.
While the San Jose has been called “the Holy Grail of shipwrecks,” The Wall Street Journal reports that it isn’t without controversy. For decades the Colombian government and U.S. salvage company Sea Search Armada were caught in a legal tug-of-war over the ship and its cargo. The Colombian government legally owns the San Jose, the result of legislation to protect shipwrecks as cultural sites. However, because Sea Search Armada helped Colombia look for the wreck—and once claimed they had discovered its location in the early 1980s—the two parties became embroiled in a 2011 lawsuit. In the end, the court ruled that Colombia owned the San Jose. Meanwhile, the Colombian government maintains that it found the sunken ship independent of the salvage company.
The wreck is still being explored, but you can see some of the archaeologists' preliminary findings in the video from Haaretz above.
All images courtesy of YouTube.