J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sunken Treasure News

Here are a couple of news items from the shipwreck desk.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute announced that in late 2015 its submersible robot REMUS 6000, operating from a Colombian navy ship, discovered a wreck buried on the Atlantic seabed.

The submersible also delivered footage showing that the ship carried “bronze cannons still have ornate dolphins engraved on them.” That served to identify it as the San José, a Spanish galleon carrying “gold, silver and emeralds” when British ships attacked and sunk it in 1708, as shown above.

How much gold, silver, and jewels? That cargo is estimated to be worth $4 to $17 billion today. With so much money at stake, there are disputes between the government of Colombia, an U.S. company called Sea Search Armada that claims to have found the same wreck in 1981, and possibly the government of Spain. That’s why the Woods Hole institute (which makes no financial claim on the find) kept the news secret until this month.

Closer to home is the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah in 1717. Earlier this year, the Whydah Pirate Museum in Yarmouth displayed a bone fragment recovered in “a large concretion” of fused material from the wreck. Forensic scientists were going to extract D.N.A. from the bone and compare it to a descendant of the ship’s captain, Samuel Bellamy.

This month the genetic results came back. There wasn’t a match with the Bellamy line (presumably the Y chromosome). Instead, the bone comes from “a man with general ties to the Eastern Mediterranean area.”

At the same time, the museum touted “new X-rays and thermo-imaging” of the concretion that the bone fragment came from. Those revealed that the pirate “was partially clothed, and believed to be carrying what appears to be treasure in his pocket.” What “treasure” means is unclear.

It’s estimated that the Whydah carried $120 million worth of gold and silver. (Only $120 million?) So far marine archeologists have recovered some millions’ worth along with sixty cannon and other artifacts. Many of those items, along with the concretion at issue, are on display at the museum this summer.

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