A magnificent four foot-long gold chain along with a two inch tall gold cross and an oval religious medallion was uncovered this week from the most valuable shipwreck ever recovered; the Nuestra Senora de Atocha.
Key West, FL March 24, 2011 – 35 miles West of Key West, Florida on the shipwreck site of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha a four foot long gold chain adorned with an intricately designed black enameled gold cross, a two sided gold religious medallion, a black bead and a gold floweret was uncovered by Mel Fisher's Treasures salvage vessel; JB Magruder and her crew: Captain Andy Matroci, First Mate Ryan Stapula and crewmembers Bill Burt and Tim Meade.
The four foot long gold chain is comprised of 55 individual gold links resembling cotter pins totaling 40 inches. There is a longer gold link that connects to a two inch tall by 1 ¼ inch wide gold cross. The cross has ornate round floweret designs on each of the four ends. On the lateral edges of the cross there is what appears to be inscribed Latin wording. There is also black enamel featured on one full side of the cross and intermittently on some of the lettering.
On the main section of the gold chain there is a gold religious medallion connected to one of the links. The medallion is ¾ inch wide by 1 ½ inch tall. The obverse side of the medallion has a beautifully detailed image of what appears to be the Virgin Mary. On the reverse side there is an engraved image of a chalice.
The main portion of the chain also features a black bead which is ½ inch in diameter. It is unclear at this time what the black bead is made of and will be researched before the conservation process is determined.
Finally, there are two halves to a floweret on the longer chain link that connects to the gold cross. When it was first crafted in the 1600s these two halves would likely have retained a small bead or pearl.
Captain Andy Matroci explains they had been working on the upper most point of the North end of the Atocha trail in an area just East of where they had uncovered 22 silver coins and a cannon ball on their last trip to the site. They had been hoping to find more coins in this area and instead found something even more significant. He recalls, "In the 9 years I have been running this boat this is the most unique artifact we have brought up."
Upon hearing of the discovery of this one of a kind artifact Kim Fisher, President of Mel Fisher's Treasures made a trip to the wreck site to see this magnificent piece of history first hand. He says, "Although we will not know the exact value of this unique artifact until conservation and a full archaeological study have been completed we estimate it will be valued somewhere around $250,000."
The nature of the artifact is very encouraging in the search for the remaining half of the Atocha. These types of intricate religious artifacts were likely owned by a member of the clergy and indicate the search could be nearing the discovery of a cache of church owned riches which would have been stored in the Sterncastle of the ship.
Gold reacts very little with salt water however the conservation process will be completed slowly and meticulously with particular attention being directed at maintaining the integrity of the black enamel and black bead.
Mel Fisher's Treasures has been working the shipwreck site of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha since 1969 and to date half a billion dollars in historic artifacts, gold, silver and emeralds have been recovered. The historic shipwreck salvage company operates an ongoing search for the other half sunken galleon known as the Sterncastle. This rear portion of the ship is where the wealthiest passengers stayed including members of nobility and clergy. It is estimated that the remaining wealth will total over a half a billion dollars.