Unearthed: Priceless Antiquities Recovered From 360 Year-Old Bahamas Shipwreck - Arts & Culture

Allen Exploration opens Bahamas Maritime Museum to showcase a collection of treasures from one of the most famous shipwrecks in Bahamian history.

Built in 1639, the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, meaning “Our Lady of Wonders” was named in honor of a 13th-century Virgin Mary sculpture from a Carmelite convent located in Madrid. The ship crossed the Atlantic and headed towards South America; it sank in the Bahama Banks in 1656 during its trip back to Spain.

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According to the Bahamas Maritime Museum website, the Maravillas was a Spanish galleon armed with 36 cannons made of bronze; the two-deck ship carried treasure to Seville that served as both royal tax and private property. The ship sank off the Little Bahama Bank on January 4, 1656, after the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción flagship collided with it. The wreck spans over 70 kilometers off the Little Bahama Bank in the Northern Bahamas and the remains have been heavily salvaged with Spain contracting ten salvage operations between 1656 and 1679. All 36 bronze cannons were recovered including 2.9 million pesos (silver pieces of eight). Only 45 passengers survived while approximately 600 were lost. Most were believed to have died from exposure or eaten by sharks.

It was in 1972 when Robert Marx, a treasure hunter rediscovered the bow section of the wreck together with thousands of silver coins and silver bars, and from the 1980’s to early 1990’s, Herbert Humphries made recoveries as well from the wreck. By 1992 the Government of The Bahamas enacted a moratorium on the issuance of licenses for shipwreck salvage and the seas stayed closed until 2019 when Carl Allen was awarded a new license for conducting a scientific and archaeological exploration. This is what led to the creation of the Bahamas Maritime Museum to share and display these wondrous artifacts with the rest of the world.

Allen Exploration’s Bahamas Maritime Museum is set to open on August 8, 2022, sharing the history of The Bahamas, exploring themes such as the horrors of the slave trade and the Spanish treasure fleets while centering around the Bahamas’ sunken crown jewel, otherwise known as the remains of the Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas. As one of the great treasure-laden Spanish galleons, the Maravilla was also unique because of its double cargo: its own consignment of silver and silver salvaged from the wreck of the Jesus Maria de la Limpia Concepcion. 

It is considered an important wreck due to the personal belongings of the officers, crew, and passengers that may be preserved and used as reference to reconstruct daily life at sea. Other artifacts like ceramics showed how the crew ate and stored food while tobacco pipes and shoe buckles gave insights on fashion and habits.

The website states that: “Under the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Act (Amended 2011), all wreckage in Bahamian waters is the property of the Government of The Bahamas. Allen Exploration was granted a survey license in 2019 and an excavation license in 2020. Finds are divided between the Government of The Bahamas and AllenX. Allen Exploration has proven its commitment to keeping its collection together for the public good by sponsoring the build, opening and running of The Bahamas Maritime Museum. There are no intentions to split up the collection or sell it.”

Visit the website to learn more about Allen Exploration.

Banner photo via The Bahamas Maritime Museum website.

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