FOUND: The World's Largest Sunken Treasure - Atlas Obscura
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FOUND: The World’s Largest Sunken Treasure

An artist’s depiction of the battle that sunk the San Jose (Image: Samuel Scott/Wikimedia)

More than 300 years after British war ships sunk the San Jose galleon—a majestic Spanish ship packed with treasure from American colonies—its wreck has been found.

Late in November, the Colombian navy, along with a scientific agency of anthropology and history, located the ship 16 miles off the coast of Cartagena, a port city on the country’s northern coast. The ship is said to have millions of gold coins and jewels inside, worth as much as $14 billion in total. It may be, the Associated Press says, “the world’s largest sunken treasure.”

The San Jose sank in the summer of 1708, on what was then May 28 on the British calendar and June 8 on the Spanish. (At the time, the Brits were still a few decades away from embracing the now-ubiquitous Gregorian calendar.) The ship was trying to outrun British war vessels, which were determined to capture, or at least block, the San Jose. It was a substantial ship, with three decks and 600 people abroad. Its cargo—gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, diamonds, and amethysts—was intended to help finance Spain’s war against Britain and its allies, fought over the succession to the Spanish throne.

Ever since the ship sank, its treasure has been legendary. Now that it’s been found, there’s a fight over who will get it. Colombia wants it, of course, but an American salvage company that provided a location for the ship in the 1980s claims a large portion of its worth. (This claim has been fought over in court for years.) Spain is also considering trying to obtain part of the treasure.

No one has actually been down to the wreckage yet; the Colombian government found it using sonar and underwater robots. But the images they capture included “dolphin-stamped bronze cannons,” the AP reports, which proves it: there’s treasure here.

Bonus find: The faintest galaxy in the universe

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.