By Cailey Rizzo
May 23, 2018
Credit: REMUS image/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Researchers have finally revealed details about the $17-billion sunken treasure they found off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, three years ago.

The San José was a Spanish galleon ship, traveling with precious cargo of gold, silver, and emeralds. After sinking during battle with British ships in 1708, it became known as the “holy grail of shipwrecks.” For more than 300 years, the exact location of the wreck was an enduring mystery for archaeologists, explorers and treasure hunters.

But in November 2015, a team of researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found the remains of the ship almost 2,000 feet below sea level. Recently, the institution received permission from various archaeological associations and the Colombian government to release information about their successful underwater search.

To find the sunken ship, researchers employed the unmanned REMUS 6000 vehicle. The underwater explorer also helped map the wreck site of the Titanic in 2010 and discover the remains of Air France Flight 447 at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2011.

REMUS 6000 being deployed off the Colombian Navy research ship ARC Malpelo.
| Credit: Mike Purcell/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The REMUS 6000 took underwater sonar images of the sunken vessel, with images clear enough to make out decorative carvings on the cannons.

Archaeologists hope that the historical artifacts found in the wreck will help paint a picture of “economic, social, and political climate in the early 18th century,” according to a press release from WHOI.

Credit: REMUS image/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The wreck was partially sediment-covered, but with the camera images from the lower altitude REMUS missions, the crew was able to see new details, such as ceramics and other artifacts.
| Credit: REMUS image/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Colombian government plans to display the treasures discovered in the wreck — including cannons, ceramics and other artifacts — in a public museum. But, for now, the wreck has not been touched and the treasures remain underwater. Several countries and organizations are fighting over who has the rights to the wreck.

The exact location of the wreck remains a state secret, per the directive of UNESCO.