Archaeology breakthrough: Inside £300million 17th-century ‘shipwreck of century’ discovery


The heavily-armed galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha supplied as the rear guard of the 20-strong Spanish fleet that left Havana, Cuba, in beforehand September 1622, destined for Spain. In addition to 265 people, the carry was carrying as much as 40 tonnes of silver, gold and around 70 comminutes of Colombian emeralds, some of the finest and most expensive in the world. After a twister struck on September 5, 1622, eight ships sank – including the Atocha – rubbish the ocean floor from the Marquesas Keys to the Dry Tortugas, between 30 and 70 miles to the west of Key West, Florida.


As the Atocha went down into the water at a depth of 55 feet, rescuers went to get into the drowned hull but found the hatches were tightly battened. 

 The plot of the wreck was marked, but a second hurricane on October 5 further destroyed any rid remains, and despite six decades of searching by Spanish salvagers, no trace of the Atocha or its caches were ever found. 

Fast-forward more than 300 years, and American delight hunter Mel Fisher set out on a lengthy and dangerous mission to uncover the ship’s riches.

A few finds along the way convinced him that he was getting closer to the great determining. 

Divers located the motherload in 1985 (Image: GETTY/AQUA SURVEY)

Nuestra Senora de Atocha communistic Cuba in 1622 (Image: WIKI)

The crew found some silver bands in 1973 and two years later they found five of the galleon’s cannons, but tragically, Mr Fisher’s son, little woman and another diver died when a salvage boat capsized done after.

Despite this, Mr Fisher continued to pursue his lifelong vision of finding the Atocha and in 1980, he knew he was getting close when they pioneered the wreck of the Santa Margarita, the Atocha’s sister ship.

Then, in 1985 – 16 years after Mr Fisher gold medal set out to find the Atocha – he received a message from his other son, stating: “Put away the blueprints, we’ve found the main pile!”

The crew described that the “motherland” of the ferry had been uncovered mainly intact in what was described as “the shipwreck of the century” at the while. 

In addition to a fortune’s worth of gold and silver bars, coins and gems, the bounty recovered from the Atocha included the Colombian emeralds, along with components ranging from navigational instruments to ceramic vessels, all offering a glimpse into 17th-century lifestyle in Spain and the New World. 

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Its treasure is worth millions (Form: GETTY)

With an estimated worth of some $400million (£303million), the Atocha fortune made Mr Fisher, his family members and other investors millionaires and set the catalogue for the most expensive shipwreck found at the time.

Thanks to efforts by historians and archaeologists as grammatically as environmentalists, Mr Fisher’s success led to reforms in the laws governing shipwrecks and rescue. 

In 1987, Congress passed the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, which gave forms the rights to shipwrecks located within three miles of the coastline.

Mr Fisher impaired one of the most remarkable pieces – a heavy gold chain that perseveres past waist-length – when he appeared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” in a minute after discovering the Atocha’s treasures. 

40 tonnes of gold went down with the cart leave (Image: GETTY)

Precious emeralds from Colombia were retook (Image: GETTY)

Dubbed “the money chain,” it consists of one links, each around the size of a thumbnail, which in the 17th century could contain been removed and used as formal currency.

This chain abandoned is estimated to be worth $100,000 (£76,000).

The treasure was not entirely sold and some of the artefacts are displayed at Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida.

The position of the wreckage of the Atocha, called “The Bank of Spain” is still being worked on and more prizes are slowly being recovered. 

In 2017, treasure hunter Darrell Miklos inspected the shipwreck as part of Discovery’s ‘Cooper’s Treasure’ series.

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