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New treasures recovered from the wreck of a legendary Spanish frigate

Listen to this article Archaeologists have unearthed thousands of new artefacts from the wreck of the legendary Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes, which was sunk in the early 19th century. The story of the wreck has been a source of much excitement for many years. First due to the treasure illegally excavated by
Published: August 8, 2020 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 20:41
New treasures recovered from the wreck of a legendary Spanish frigate
Listen to this article

Archaeologists have unearthed thousands of new artefacts from the wreck of the legendary Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes, which was sunk in the early 19th century. The story of the wreck has been a source of much excitement for many years. First due to the treasure illegally excavated by the Odyssey company, and now due to the results of subsequent expeditions to the wreck. What is interesting, there is also an important Polish thread here.

The wreck of the Spanish vessel generated a lot of publicity a few years ago, when the American company Odyssey Marine Exploration excavated from the wreck a treasure of 600 thousand coins worth 0.5 billion USD. Eventually, as a result of a court battle lasting several years, the coins were returned to their rightful owner, the Kingdom of Spain.

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Bronze cannon from the wreck of a 19th-century frigate divers24.pl
Bronze cannon recovered from the wreck photo: Muse Nacional de Arqueologia Subaquatica

Now, underwater archaeologists conducting exploration work at the site have boasted the results of their research, reporting the excavation of thousands of items from the wreck. The latest artefacts include bronze cannons, cutlery and candelabras, as well as many items of everyday use.

Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes was sunk by a unit of the British Royal Navy on 5 October 1804, 30 nautical miles off Cape Santa Maria in Portugal. This was a surprise attack carried out in international waters in violation of the Treaty of Amiens of 1802 between France, Spain and Britain. At the time, 275 crew members were killed, and with the ships also went to the bottom a huge cargo of gold, silver and copper, which had been waiting to be mined at a depth of more than 1,100 metres for more than 200 years.

Silver cutlery recovered from wreck divers24.co.uk
Everyday objects taken from the wreck photo: Museo Nazional de Aequeologia Subaquatica de Cartagena

In 2007, Odyssey Marine Exploration, an American company specialising in the search, exploration and extraction of cargo from deep-sea wrecks, found the remains of a sunken frigate and extracted 600,000 coins from its interior. However, they were not able to keep the treasure, as it was finally sent to Spain by a Supreme Court judgement.

At this point there is also a Polish thread to this story. A source article from the English-language Spanish edition of El Pais cites a publication by underwater archaeologists from the University of Warsaw.

“As revealed in papers from the 2019 international seminar ‘Archaeology: Just Add Water’, the Odyssey treasure hunters focused only on the coins and left the rest of the treasure untouched. Hundreds of new artefacts from the wreck are currently being restored in Spain and will be put on display in November as the final result of Europe’s first underwater archaeological excavation conducted at a depth of more than 1,100 metres.” – reads the online edition of El Pais

Year after year in 2015, 2016 and 2017, three expeditions were carried out to the wreck of the Spanish frigate. The latter two using mini-submarines, which allowed the location of thousands of artefacts from the wreck, buried in the seabed. As a result, the remains of the Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes have become an extremely important source of information about life at sea in the early 19th century, and the historical and museum value of the wreck has been established as indisputable.

Cannon recovered from Spanish wreck divers24.co.uk
Cannon rescued from the wreck of a frigate photo: Muse Nacional de Arqueologia Subaquatica

“A recent publication by archaeologists from the University of Warsaw entitled The Mercedes 2015-2017 Project: Exploration and Excavation of the Wreck Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (1138 m deep) explains that the purpose of the three expeditions was to determine the location and extent of the site where the wreck lies, to document its condition after looting, to draw up an archaeological map of the materials that remained on the seabed, and to excavate and extract some of the materials referred to in archival documents.”

We can only hope that the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes will surprise us more than once and that further discoveries are only a matter of time. It is also extremely interesting to visit the exhibition of coins excavated by Odyssey, as well as the exhibition with the latest finds which is being prepared.

Source: El Pais

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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