Buried treasure! Divers find oldest shipwreck in the Caribbean - worth millions

Ruth Doherty

A team of treasure hunters have discovered what they believe to be the oldest shipwreck in the Caribbean - and buried treasure worth millions.

After only diving the site - located off the Dominican Republic coast - a handful of times, the team at Deep Blue Marine have dug up some serious finds worth a pretty penny.

At the last count, Captain Billy Rawson and his crew had unearthed 700 silver coins that could be worth millions, jade figurines, and a mirrored stone that was possibly used in Shamanic rituals.

Despite dating back to the 1500s, all the objects found so far have been in good condition.

Randy Champion, vice president of the Utah-based company, told the Daily Mail: 'We only started diving last autumn and haven't gone down that much because it's been the winter.

'We have just scratched the surface,' he added. 'All of the stuff we've found is just from mucking about really.'

Although the team haven't officially confirmed which ship they are diving, Mr Champion said they had a pretty fair idea - but were keeping it under wraps for now.

'If it's the ship we think it is, she probably went down in a hurricane,' he said.

'We have looked at the prevailing currents and wind directions in archives and found a cannon and ballast stone on the wreck that was all going in the wrong direction.

'That suggests it was probably a hurricane as winds go counter clockwise.'

The Blue Water Marine team believe this ship was heading back to Spain with a haul of newly minted coins, and that it was quite small, around 50ft to 60ft, with 25 to 45 people on board.
There were almost certainly a few dignitaries on board - and definitely more than just 700 coins.

'There are thousands and thousands down there,' Mr Champion added.

Most of the coins don't have dates on, so the team have been busy cleaning them up and trawling through reference books to identify them.

'These coins could be worth just $1,000,' Mr Champion said. 'But then one similar to ours sold for $132,000 the other day.

'They could be worth millions. But they aren't worth anything unless someone buys them.'

The pre-Columbian carved jade figurines, all approximately 2in to 3in high, could be 500 years older than the wreck itself.

Mr Champion said some had holes in the back side suggesting they could have been part of a head piece.

This also suggests the crew of the 1500s ship probably stole a lot of their booty.

'They had to satisfy the king's request, but would have taken other things too,' said Mr Champion.

But he insists that they don't dive the site just for the money.

'We're not just looking for things that glitter and things that are real pretty,' he said. 'We're trying to find out what happened to this ship.'

Deep Blue Marine are contracted by the Dominican Republic to search and uncover treasure from the wreck. They then split the proceeds 50/50.

They had been surveying 42 miles of coastline with high-tech equipment in an effort to find the wreck.

But they got lucky after the chance encounter with a local fisherman who sold them an old coin he had found while diving.

To their astonishment the team discovered it was one of the oldest coins ever minted and knew they had found what they were looking for.

'We said to this guy: "If you show us where you found the coin you can come and work for us",' said Mr Champion.

The diving process isn't without its risks, including modern-day pirates, waves, rocks and sharks, but 'It's better than being stuck at a desk', says Champion.

Especially when you strike it rich!

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