RMS Titanic is one of the most famous ships of all time, and will forever be remembered for its devastating past. After famously crashing into an iceberg on its first voyage in 1912, this colossal ship sadly sank while in the North Atlantic Ocean – killing more than 2,000 people who were on-board as passengers or crew members. In fact, the sinking of the Titanic is largely considered to be one of the worst maritime disasters of all time. However, that doesn’t mean it was the only one. In fact, the 17th Century was plagued by sinking ships and shipwrecks, including the San Francisco. While on its mission from the Philippines to Mexico in 1609, this incredible ship went off the radar, and nobody could find any trace of its location or the crew.
Because of this, officials had to come to the conclusion that the ship had sunk, and all of the crew onboard had sadly perished in the disaster. Since then, many archaeologists and treasure hunters have made it their mission to find the location of the San Francisco and uncover the treasure that lies beneath the surface. Yet, few people have ever come close to discovering more about that mystery. At least, that was the case. Until now. After years of people risking their lives to find the hidden treasure of the San Francisco, one group of archaeologists have gone on an epic mission that has resulted in a crazy find…
A little ball of joy
These 3 scuba divers stumbled upon an artifact that could possibly change what we know about the 17th century. This hand-sized ball might look like a piece of garbage to you but if it’s what archeologists think it is then that could mean that these scuba divers are in for a big treat. What kind of treat could this little ball possibly have to offer you may ask? We’re talking about the millions of dollars kind of treat.
Beneath the waters of the Tokyo shores
That little ball sparked enough interest for the Japanese government to assemble and fund a team. What was the team looking for? The scuba divers went to Tokyo inside the Chiba province’s waters in order to find the shipwreck under water. Or whatever was left of it. This dangerous mission was anything but a sure thing. But the team was ready, their budget from the government was in order, their scuba suits and tanks were strapped on and they were ready to find a treasure.
Some have died trying
“We hoped to recover something that could shed light on the shipwreck, however little it may be,” that’s what Dr. Jun Kimura said about their search for the remains from the the shipwreck. He knew that their chances were slim because they were not the first divers to search for it. People had failed many times before and some even died trying. The shipwreck occurred hundreds of years ago and with each passing year, the likelihood of stumbling upon the ship became worse and worse.
Sailing the Tokyo seas
The team that was compiled to be sent on the mission needed to be a top-notch team. The team was made up of an Australian, Japanese, and American archeologists. They were all very skilled with tons of experience in the field. But that isn’t enough. They needed luck on their side when they would sail through the scaly and dangerous angry waters of Tokyo. The waters held poisonous and dangerous wildlife so the search wasn’t going to be easy, to say the least.
What were they searching for exactly
Imagine it’s the 1600’s and your sailing the high seas on the Pacific ocean. Now imagine the biggest and baddest ship of them all. That was the ship. It was designed to show how great Spain was at the time and to reflect the country’s prosperity. This ship that crashes was only one of many ships that were venturing across the great Pacific Ocean at that time. Are you starting to picture why this mission was so bent on finding this great treasure?
Disappeared without a trace
The ship was originally on a mission from the Philippines all the way to Mexico in order to transport goods from one Spanish colony to another. Dr. Kimura said that when the ship sank it “impacted the relationship between Spain, the Philippines, Mexico, and Japan.” The ship didn’t just drown but it also disappeared off the face of the earth. Until now. By why is Dr. Kimura trying so hard to find this particular ship?
An opportunity they couldn’t refuse
The ship wasn’t just carrying any cargo but rather it held many valuable goods that could be worth millions if found. When Dr. Kimura and his fellow archaeologists McCann realized that there was a chance, no matter how slight, that they could find the ship well let’s just say that it was an offer that they couldn’t refuse. How could they say no to the possibility of riches, fame, danger, archaeological interest and a front-page story in the news to boot?
Just like the Titanic there were survivors to go on and tell the tale. One of the survivors of the San Fransisco ws Don Rodrigo de Vivero Velasco, the governor of the Philippines. He wrote about it in his diary to our luck. In the diary, dated on the 30th of September, 1609, there was a strong storm that pushed the ship into the reefs of the province of Chiba. Don wrote that “The ship was getting destroyed in pieces among some cliffs on the head of Japan.”
A painting of the struggle
Don Rodrigo de Vivero Velasco also wrote ““All of us survivors were over the riggings and ropes, because the galleon was getting broken piece by piece.” There were hundreds of survivors who were transported back to Mexico by a Japanese modern ship. This painting depicts the scene of the local Fisherman from Chiba helping the hundreds of survivors trying to reach the safety of the mainland and get out of the dangerous storm. This painting is currently hung in the museum in Onjuku.
A gift of appreciation
As a symbol of the appreciation for the help that the Japanese extended towards the ship in their time of need, the Spanish King gave the Japanese Shogun this antique priceless golden clock. Kimura said that “They were the first Japanese ever to cross the Pacific,” and “The Spanish king highly appreciated what Japan had done for the survivors, so diplomatic exchanges between Japan and Spain started.” This was just the start of the relationship between the King of Spain and the Japanese Shogun.
A blossoming relationship
The Japanese and the Spanish rulers’ relationship only got better with time. They agreed to advance the trade routes between Spain and Japan. The Spanish king even offered to send 50 Mexican silver mining experts to help further Japan’s trade in mining silver. In exchange for this, the Spanish priests that were currently held in Japan and were being prosecuted would be saves and set free. Lastly, the agreed that if any future shipwreck situation should arise the Japanese would continue to help the survivors.
Meet Dr. Kimura
That is what captivated Dr. Jun Kimura. He wanted to know if he could find anything at all that was connected to the shipwreck. Dr. Jun had been working for the Maritime Civilizations Department at the University of Tokyo for some time now and he specialized in the sea battle sites. The San Francisco wasn’t any normal battle. However, it was a battle against nature. And for the most part, nature won, leaving some survivors but none of the goods.
A great sacrifice
Ian McCann was helping Dr. Kimura on this mission. He was an Australian researcher. This team had sacrificed a lot to find out what lays below the Eastern shores. Ian McCain sacrificed the most. he actually sold half of his assets so that he could pursue archeology and share his findings with the rest of the world. Ian said “Some guys choose to go around in a Porsche. This is what gets me. This is my lifestyle now.”
Day in and day out
In the beginning, it was exciting. They were on a mission for the greatest treasure. They would put on their scuba suit, sink to the ocean’s floor and take out their metal detectors and start searching. Two years later of searching, day after day no matter what harsh elements came their way, the team grew tired and restless. That was exactly when McCann actually found something. His fellow archeologists were shocked. What did he find?
Ian McCann, an Australian researcher on the team who was from the University of New England, could not believe his eyes. Dr. Kimura said that “Ian just saw an unusual shape on the sandy bed. He recovered it but then we had to go back to the surface as our air had nearly run out.” They quickly resurfaced with huge grins plastered on their faces, ready go back down as soon as possible. What exactly they had found they were not sure just yet.
Ian was so proud of himself, he said “We were just about to head up the shot line when I noticed a round shaped concretion about 5 meters [16 feet] from the line. Something about it looked a little different so I quickly swam across to it, scooped it up and headed up the line. As soon as I felt the weight, I knew it was something important.” Ian was in for a surprise when he would discover what was really in his hands.
Pride of a good find
After two years straight of searching with nothing to show for their efforts, it is understandable that the team felt a bit hopeless. That was why this find was so important to them, they really needed a reason to continue searching. McCann said “This is our second year looking for the site,” he said. “The visibility can be poor, currents strong, and day after day we have to keep diving and looking.” McCann was so excited about finding a the cannonball.. but what is a cannonball exactly?
Testing their theory
The team believed that the small sphere that they found was actually a cannonball used to protect the ship. They were excited but they weren’t sure. if they were correct that would mean that the actual ship wouldn’t be too far off. They knew the process thought, this wasn’t their first time on the block. The team would have to send the cannonball to get tested through a chemical analysis in order to know for sure.
Ready for good news
The cannonball would be the first ever artifact that was retrieved from the remains of the shipwreck. They truly believed that they found the first piece of the puzzle that would lead them to the greatest treasure of their entire lives. The cannonball could serve as a treasure map and help them find the ship itself. They wanted so badly for the sphere to be what they believed it was. Their smiling faces prove that their two long year search was about to come to a fruitful end.
The team of archeologists quickly sent the cannonball to the local Tokai university to be tested by geologists in order to prove their theory to be true. This was the same school that Kimura worked at, they were not taking any chances. After painfully waiting for the results the geologists informed the team that the sphere was made out of the chemicals feldspar, pyroxene, and peridotite. But what did that mean exactly, was this the good news that they were waiting for?
Exactly what they were looking for
It really was a cannonball! McCann believed that it was very similar to many other cannonballs that were previously found in the Pacific ocean before. McCann said that “This matches the rock type used for other cannonballs found on Spanish vessels involved in this trade. More scientific tests need to be conducted but so far we are feeling quite confident it’s from the ship.” The whole team breathed out a sigh of relief in unison, their prayers were answered.
Searching for centuries
This is clearly not the first time that an expedition was organized by the government. Since the middle of the 19th century, the government have been in search of any signs remaining from the San Fransisco. However, the coastline of Chiba has been very unforgiving and has been ravished by tsunamis and other natural disasters making finding any historical artifact next to impossible. It’s almost like these ancient artifacts want to stay hidden. But not if these archeologists have anything to do with it.
McCann is nervous that the news of their find would attract unwanted treasure hunters that don’t have the proper licenses and authority to search. He said “These galleons are a target for treasure hunters who spend a lot of time and money looking for them because of the valuable cargo they carry. The ship will be the first one found that has not been pillaged and we can learn exactly what the manifested cargo and the hidden cargo was.”
Even more goods
It is rumored that sailors would almost always sneak even more goods onto the ship so that they would not have to pay taxes. McCann added that “These vessels represented what could be termed as the first model for globalization, true world trade. For maritime archeology, this will be a significant find, a site [from which] we can learn a lot more about the trade, what countries were involved and exactly what was traded.”
Just a lucky find
McCann still understands that this may have been a lucky find but this just might be the end of line, he explained that “Large slabs of rock, up to 4 tons each, have collapsed into the gullies where artifacts are likely to be lodged, making it difficult to determine if there is anything there.” There have been too many typhoons and tsunamis on the coastline of Chiba to make finding another clue anything but simple.
A rocky but hopeful road ahead
Despite the statistics and the past failed searches McCann is is positive and hopeful that this find will lead to another one. He went on to say that “With a good plan, an experienced crew and a good dose of luck it may be possible to find the more historically important and valuable items. But honestly, this is unknown…A lot of people invest in treasure hunters schemes only to lose their money, very few are successful, due to the unknown nature of each site and the difficulty of working underwater.”
It may excite you to hear that the cannonball wasn’t the only thing that the team of archeologists found in the Pacific Ocean. They had previously also recovered a piece of timber close by that they believed to be from the sunken San Fransisco. But a piece of timber is not enough to attract media attention or to really sink your teeth into believing that the ship was within their grasp. There was clearly something special about the cannonball…
The archeologists are hopeful that the cannonball find can better explain how the two empires traded at that time. History tells that there were two trips made each year between Mexico and the Philippines. They wanted to know more about the path that was taken from Acapulco to Manila to better understand the routes of that time. Which could also help them get a clue to where the San Fransisco could be hiding and where the treasure is.
The treasure’s value
McCann believes that the cannonball has a lot of potential to light their way to the rest of the San Fransisco. “A cannonball may not sound like much but it indicates the general vicinity where the vessel went down. It is the only Spanish Manila galleon that has not been plundered by treasure hunters.” McCann went on to explain that the ship also may have “carried fabulously valuable cargo…by today’s value, the cargo may have had a value of around $80m.”
The team explained that they are still hopeful and that “During our search, we believe we detected iron. It could be from modern times. But we want to keep searching in this area.” They believe that this is only a part of the puzzle towards the greatest treasure of their lives. The government of Japan has extended their budget to continue searching until March of 2019. That is an astounding amount of faith in the archeologists. We can’t wait to hear about what they find.