Archaeology goldmine as £14billion of looted treasure still in ‘holy grail of shipwrecks’

Beyond Oak Island: A look at the San José galleon shipwreck

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It was on 8 June 1708 that the Spanish galleon San José burst into flames. The ship and its sailors had been in battle with the British for hours as it was widely known it held great riches, and Britain wanted a slice of the cake. As it sank, 600 people were thrown under water, along with £14billion worth of gold, silver and jewels.

According to the History channel the San José has become known as “the holy grail of shipwrecks”.

Jerry Lee, a treasure hunter at Global Explorations, said: “The San José was in Panama looting gold brought up from the West coast of South America, and it was there for a very long period of time so it stored a lot of gold along with several other ships.

“They all sailed for Cartagena, Colombia at the same time.”

Jeff Kaeli, an oceanographic engineer who led a research team to explore the San José’s hold, said: “It would have carried a lot of gold, silver from the Mayans, it would have carried emeralds.”

For more than 300 years after the battle, one of the largest treasure hoards ever to set sail was lost.

Things changed in 2015 when the Colombian government commissioned maritime archaeologists and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution – who located the Titanic in 1985 – to find the wreck.

The first attempt was fruitless.

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On the second expedition at the end of 2015, however, the San José was finally uncovered.

A great day for archaeology and history, it added to a much bigger and already exisiting deep-rooted dispute: Who was the rightful owner of what remained of the ship and its treasure?

Spain makes claim to the treasure because it was a Spanish galleon that sank; Colombia says it’s theirs because it’s in their waters.


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Tok Thompson, a professor of anthropology and communications, notes a third argument for ownership, telling the documentary: “Then again it was taken from the Incan Empire.”

John Mattera, a treasure hunter, said the Colombian government “probably has the strongest claim to the wreck” given that it is in the country’s waters.

The San José and its hold has, as a result, become one of the most sought after ships and treasures in history.

Divers are yet to recover the treasure due to the ongoing legal battle.

As the dispute continues, scores of gold, silver and jewels are lost to the harsh salt water environment, and the treasure is slowly dissolving into the seabed.

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