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From Gold Chains to Gems: A New Exhibition Will Showcase Artifacts From a 17th-Century Spanish Shipwreck

The findings will be displayed at the Bahamas Maritime Museum starting next week.

Maravillas shipwreck artifacts found in Bahamas Brendan Chavez/Courtesy of Allen Exploration

A new expedition has recovered a trove of priceless artifacts from a shipwreck over 350 years old in the Bahamas. The artifacts, which include jewel-encrusted pendants and gold chains, will be on display at the new Bahamas Maritime Museum beginning next week.

The Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (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 and privately-consigned treasures from the Americas. Failing to navigate shallow waters, however, it collided with the flagship of the fleet and hit a reef. 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 research 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 featuring 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 travelers 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 participated 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.”

Adding, “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 a plastics business and becoming a philanthropist. Unlike previous expedition teams, Allen’s team is working with experts to track and publish data on the shipwreck. The team is using cutting-edge technology to understand how the ship wrecked as well as the wreckage pattern. Additionally, they are collecting data on the health of the nearby coral reefs, seafloor geology, and plastic pollution.

While the discoveries remain the property of the Bahamian government, Allen Exploration is sponsoring the Bahamas Maritime Museum, which opens on August 8 in Freeport, where the items will be on view.

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