Spanish study a 'treasure map' for hundreds of sunken ships

Includes Christopher Columbus' Santa Maria

25 February, 11:58

    ROME -Some people are already calling a Spanish study that inventories hundreds of sunken galleons "the largest treasure map" that ever existed.
    The study is an accurate reconstruction of the places and causes of the sinking of nearly 700 Spanish ships in the Americas between 1492 and 1898.
    A group of Spanish academics working with the country's culture ministry to produce the study also found that in many cases the ships were carrying pearls, emeralds, and gold.
    The study, titled "Inventory of Spanish Shipwrecks in America" was reported by Spanish daily El Pais and precisely reconstructs 681 sinkings.
    It starts with the sinking one of Christopher Columbus's three ships from 1492, the Santa Maria, off the island of Bohio, later renamed Hispaniola; and documents through to five Cuban destroyers that the US fleet sunk in the Spanish-American War of 1898.
    The majority of the shipwrecks, a total of 249, were identified off the coast of Cuba; 153 on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean along the US coast; 66 near Panama; and another 63 around Hispaniola, currently divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
    The others were found mainly under the waters of the Bahamas and Bermuda.
    Nearly 80% of the hulls remain to be explored.
    The Spanish culture ministry said that rather than recovering valuables that may be in the shipwrecks, which would be a time-consuming and costly operation, the current aim of the research is to protect the shipwrecks from sackings or possible incidental damage, with the cooperation of the relevant countries.
    The study was curated by underwater archaeologists Carlos Leon and Beatriz Domingo and by historian Genoveva Enriquez and took five years to complete.
    Each entry has a list of the ship type, the name of its captain, its armament, the number of crew members and passengers, as well as the cargo.
    In addition to gold and precious stones, which conjure up images of the most famous pirate legends, many of the ships were also laden with Ming ceramics, tobacco, sugar, vanilla and cocoa, as well as slaves, artillery, books, and alleged relics from Jerusalem.
    Although some of the Spanish shipwrecks were caused by naval battles with rival powers - first England, then the Netherlands, and then the US - the majority, over 90%, were caused by storms.
    Hundreds of people could die in just one shipwreck; there were 1,250 victims in the sinking of five ships in Bermuda in 1563.
    Sometimes the shipwrecks weren't caused by a disaster in and of itself but rather by other factors, such as greed.
    In 1605, 36 people survived the sinking of the Santisima Trinidad near Cuba, but eventually died after their rescue boat sunk because they had loaded it down with too much gold and silver.

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