In an ironic twist of fate, jewels from a Spanish merchant ship are making shore on a Mexican museum's shelves after sunken treasure was recovered from beneath the turquoise waves of the Caribbean sea.
More than 300 pieces of 18th century gold and precious emeralds are now on display in the Museum of Underwater Archeology in Yucatan, Mexico.
The "serendipitous" discovery was made three years ago on the coast, according to Dr. Roberto Junco Sanchez, a researcher at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
"The transcendent nature of this discovery was made by underwater archaeologists and not by treasure hunters; they were not auctioned off to the highest bidder, but are now shared to link today's society with the new Spain," Sanchez said.
The discovery was made during a field session in the ancient city of Campeche in San Jose El Alto, organized by the Subdirectorate of Underwater Archeology (SAS) and the Integral Project for the Protection, Conservation, Research and Dissemination of the Submerged Cultural Heritage of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The team strayed slightly from their designated area of research and happened upon the remains of an anchor as well as a gold rosary and some silver coins, or 'macuquinas,' giving the ship the name Macuca Anchor. Little else was found among the wreckage, but researchers suspected there could be more hidden in the Caribbean sea floor.
The conservation team erected an archaeological site and left the rest to nature, leaving the site for a year to settle. In August 2015, the team returned, sifting the ocean floor between coral massifs and shoals.
"On the second day of the season, emeralds began to appear, some loose and others set in rings and other types of jewelry; toothpicks, rosaries, cufflinks, reliquaries, a whole series of jewelry elements that allowed us to venture that they were part of a single cargo that should have been contained in a chest, and that is likely to be traded in Spain," Junco said.
A total of 321 gold pieces – from rings and belt buckles to charms and toothpicks – were found, along with 74 emeralds and other items.
According to a study led by the Geosciences Institute of the Complutense University of Madrid, the treasure corresponds to emeralds shipped to territories in ancient Colombia, or New Granada.