Caesarea National Park isn’t the only place where divers have found vast riches in living memory. There’s also the 1715 Treasure Fleet (also known as the 1715 Plata Fleet — “Plata” being the Spanish word for silver), which was unearthed by an amateur diver and enterprising Florida Man, William Bartlett. He went down to do what many divers do — check out a shipwreck that is hundreds of years old. What he found was so much gold he had to start packing it into his gloves.
Over the next two days, he and his compatriots found 350 gold coins worth an astonishing $4.5 million. And while other hauls have been pulled out of this shipwreck, this one was the biggest to come from the wreck in decades.
Where Did the 1715 Treasure Fleet Come From?
The story of the 1715 Treasure Fleet is almost the archetype for the American conception of “sunken treasure.” There were 11 ships, totally loaded with treasure, on their way to Spain from Havana in July 1715. The Spanish were badly in need of the gold, as they had just ended the War of Spanish Succession over who would be King of Spain — the French claimant or the Austrian one — and the war badly drained their resources.
Of course, July is prime hurricane season in Florida, then as it is now and the Spanish did not have the advanced meteorological equipment that we have today for early storm detection. As many as 1,500 Spaniards died in the wreck and it was one of the biggest disasters of the entire Spanish colonial era. Some of the men survived and established a camp while they awaited rescue. The Survivors’ and Salvagers’ Camp can still be visited today, on Orchid Island, Florida.
The Spanish sent ships and, to their credit, were able to recover about 80 percent of what was on board the ships. This is astonishing, not just because of the relatively limited technology of the time, but also because of the number of pirates mulling around the area trying to score whatever treasure they could. Indeed, famed pirate Henry Jennings was first accused of piracy because of his lurking about trying to recover the lost gold of the 1715 Treasure Fleet.
But the remaining 20 percent sat in the deep for quite a long time indeed. It took over 250 years before anyone was able to unearth anything that sank during that shipwreck. All told, there were 14 million pesos on the entire fleet.
Mel Fisher and Kip Wagner: Modern-Day Treasure Hunters
Mel Fisher and Kip Wagner were treasure hunters who teamed up with the intention of getting the remaining bits of treasure still in the deep waters off the Florida coast. Two ships in the massive wreck were located and it took five years of work to uncover all that they could from just those two ships alone. After they moved onto other projects, various salvage crews worked the area until 1983.
The Queens Jewels were allegedly on the ship, though these have not, as of yet, recovered. What’s more, the cargo estimates are based on what was registered with the Spanish crown. There is reason to believe that a far greater amount of riches were on the ship in the form of contraband that the captains and their crew were smuggling back for their own personal enrichment, not that of the Spanish crown.
Unlike some of the other unearthed hoard we have covered here, such as the Hoxne Hoard or the Staffordshire Hoard, there is a clear owner of the shipwreck: Queens Jewels, a salvaging company that acquired the rights to the area in 2010 from the previous owner, treasure hunter Mel Fisher, who came out on top in a long and contentious court battle against the State of Florida. The Spanish government did not attempt to exert a claim on the shipwreck.
For its part, the State of Florida is entitled to 20 percent of any haul, which is then transferred to a museum in Tallahassee. Whatever is left is then split between Queens Jewels and the lucky treasure hunter. It can easily cost $50,000 to even get to the point where you can begin digging around in the ocean for this gold. Anything that washes ashore is the exclusive property of the person who found it. The 1715 Treasure Fleet is one of the reasons the Treasure Coast in Florida is such a popular place for metal detecting, particularly after hurricanes.
Eric Schmitt’s Million-Dollar Score
While Bartlett is one of the biggest scores in recent history, he’s not by any means the only person to strike gold in the deep blue sea thanks to the 1715 Treasure Fleet. Eric Schmitt and his family were able to unearth 52 gold coins and 40 feet of gold chain, as well as 110 silver coins and buttons, which amounted to over a million dollars in value.
Schmitt dives a lot and it wasn’t his first trip down to the Treasure Fleet looking for his fortune. Usually, however, by his own reporting, all he’s able to come up with is empty holes and beer cans. This time, however, it was vastly different. Only 15 feet down, but 1,000 feet offshore, he was able to strike it rich. A gold coin popped out of the sandbank he was working on. It wasn’t the only coin he would uncover and one of them, a very rare piece called a Tricentennial Royal, was worth $500,000.
Back in the old days, people who made coins weren’t terribly concerned with how they looked. The main concern was about how much they weighed and what the overall purity of the precious metal was. The Royals, however, were an exception, as they were presented directly to the king himself and had to be of exquisite quality.
The 1715 Treasure Fleet has seen some exposure in pop culture. A scene in the video game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag involved the 1715 Treasure Fleet. The first season of the Starz series Black Sails revolves around the 1715 Treasure Fleet and attempts by pirates to recover the riches that it left on the ocean floor.
It is estimated that there are still $400 million in Spanish gold coins outstanding in the area known as Florida’s Treasure Coast. That’s a lot of gold and silver just sitting around for the right enterprising diver to happen upon it.
The 1715 Fleet: The Archetypal Sunken Treasure originally appeared on kellycodetectors.com
By Jim in Idaho
According to legend, in a creek not too far from home, there are two gold bars from a stage robbery. Typical bars in these cases were 125 lbs, and would be about 8 x 16 x 3". I'm going to build a small raft, with a detector mounted on it. Said raft will be controllable by me, so it can be caused to sweep back and forth across the width of the creek as I wade behind it. I'd probably be 10-12' behind. because of barbed wire, and other iron trash, I need really good iron discrimination, and the size of the target means I don't need super sensitivity. A large coil would be a help, as would auto ground tracking. Wireless headphones would be a big help, assumin they can reach that 10-12' I'll be behind the detector. Also I'd need the coil to be waterproof to 24", Though I'm not planning on having the coil that deep. The detector being at least water-resistant would be a help. I'm thinking a lower frequency VLF of some sort, for depth, and will probably be buying on the used market as I'm happy with my current fleet of detectors, except for this specialized task. I'm looking for suggestions from you hotshots, and appreciate the help. I guess it doesn't need to be said that I'd like to keep the cost as low as possible.
By Dances With Doves
We got permission to hunt a park that use to be a Girl Scout camp from the 1920's to the 1990's when it closed down.The head caretaker of the park is a great guy and gave us the green light to detect there.We gave him a few scout relics which he would put in the park museum and he was very grateful for are finds.He told us that one capsule was found but a old farmer said a other one was still missing and gave us the area it could be in.It is probably from the 30's or 40's.I think the one is in a museum around here and we hope to see what it is made of.Have any of you heard of other Scout capsules and what could be in them ?I hope they are detectable.If not we could still stumble on to some silver coins or rings for a consolation prize. If found we will give the capsule to the caretaker to be put in a museum.
The Anglo-Saxons were and are renowned for their metalwork. This is not the crude metallurgy of an uncultivated barbarian horde, but the beautiful design work in the noble metals of silver and gold that only a truly cultured people could produce. Nowhere is this exemplified more than with the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon metalwork ever uncovered, even larger than the famous Sutton Hoo Hoard.
First, let’s talk about the tale of the tape: The Staffordshire Hoard includes 11 pounds of gold (5.1 kg), three pounds of silver, and over 3,500 pieces of garnet cloisonné jewelry. Manufactured during the 6th and 7th Centuries, it was most likely buried in the 7th, but like so many relics of the ancient world, it was uncovered a little closer to where we live — in 2009.
More than simply the value of the riches in this Hoard, there is the small matter of what this means for Anglo-Saxon archaeology and scholarship. None of the goods belong to women. Nearly all are martial in nature, the exception being three religious items. Thus, archaeologists now have an incredibly clear snapshot of Anglo-Saxon physical culture. The Hoard revealed that the Anglo-Saxons had perfected a technique known as depletion gilding that gives the surface of an object the appearance of being a higher purity of gold than it actually is. Some of the pieces are thought to have come from as far away as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, but these likely date back to the Roman Era.
The Hoard itself is thought to be what is somewhat awesomely called a “war hoard.” What this means is that archaeologists suspect that the bulk or even the entirety of the hoard was captured by Anglo-Saxon warriors from the Kingdom of Mercia in the battle against the Northumbrians and East Anglians.
Sheet Gold Plaque, Staffordshire Hoard
Fully 80 percent of what was found belonged to weaponry. This is one of the reasons it was such an archaeologically interesting find. Gold sword pommels are rare in the extreme, with merely one being found in the entire Sutton Hoo Hoard. By contrast, the Staffordshire Hoard boasted as many as 50 of these. What this allowed archaeologists to conclude was that, as opposed to many other cultures, they were not rare among the Mercians. It was common for such finery to only belong to a king, but for the Mercians, it seems to have been a common item for the entire warrior class.
King Penda of Mercia is the most likely “owner” of the Hoard. But sadly, there is nothing on the Hoard that specifies him as the royal owner of these goods. It’s simply a conclusion that has been drawn by the time period that the wares date from.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the Staffordshire Hoard is how it was discovered. Terry Herbert, a member of Bloxwich Research and Metal Detecting Club, is the man who made the discovery. He was doing what he loved — hunting around with his metal detector — when he came upon the Hoard. Over the course of five days, Herbert unearthed 244 gold objects before contacting Duncan Slarke, the Finds Liaison Officer for the Staffordshire and West Midlands Portable Antiquities Scheme. The landowner then allowed for a total excavation of the Hoard.
Unlike the Hoxne Hoard, which was noteworthy due to how close together everything remained over the course of several centuries, the Staffordshire Hoard was all spread out from years of plowing the fields. A 30×43-foot area had to be carefully combed to find every last piece. The Home Office conducted a final sweep of the area using highly sophisticated geophysical equipment and concluded that everything had been unearthed.
The Hoard was put on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery before Birmingham Archaeology was even done processing it, attracting 40,000 visitors during its initial showing. A coroner’s inquest found that the find was a treasure, which made it the property of the Crown. However, in accordance with British statutes adopted after the unearthing of the Hoxne Hoard, there was a bounty paid out both to the man who discovered the Hoard, as well as the landowner.
A hilt fitting from the Staffordshire hoard, which was declared to be treasure in September 2009
There was an additional excavation in 2010, whose aim was not to find more treasure but to unearth archaeological evidence with an eye toward helping to date the items from the initial haul. A third excavation in 2012, however, found an additional 91 pieces. Most of these were small, but there were some larger pieces, including a large gold cross. Only 81 out of these pieces were declared to be treasures at the inquest.
The Treasure Valuation Committee put the value of the original Hoard at £3.2 million, or about $5.3 million in 2021 dollars. According to the 1996 Treasure Act, which was passed partly in response to the discovery of the Hoxne Hoard, this was to be split between the man who found it and the owner of the land on which it was found. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery declared their intention to jointly purchase the Hoard and a public appeal was made to raise the funds.
The money was split equally between the man who discovered the Hoard and the owner of the land. This apparently led to some discord between the two men, eventually resulting at the end of their friendship, but little about the details of this is known other than that each accuses the other of excessive greed when it comes to the proceeds from the discovery of the Hoard.
The Staffordshire Hoard is fascinating on virtually every level — how it was found, where it came from, the contents of the Hoard, and what happened to the men who benefited financially from its discovery. There are doubtless many treasures lurking around the world today, buried long ago that are simply waiting for someone with the right equipment to come along and discover them.
The Staffordshire Hoard: The Largest Hoard of Anglo-Saxon Metalwork originally appeared on kellycodetectors.com
Discovered February, 2015
Most of the treasure hoards we have covered elsewhere on this site (namely the Hoxne, Staffordshire, and Cuerdale Hoards, among others) come from the West. But we will now turn our attention toward the Levant, where, in February 2015, a vast hoard was found in the Holy Land. Much like the other treasure troves we have discussed on this site, the Caesarea gold treasure was uncovered not by professional treasure hunters, but by hobbyists simply doing their thing who hit the proverbial lottery.
In this case, the hobby in question was diving, adding an additional layer of wonder to the story: Not simply buried treasure, but underwater buried treasure. Indeed, this was the largest treasure ever discovered in the State of Israel. Found by the amateur divers at Caesarea National Park, they quickly referred their find to Antiquities Authority, who then sent a team out with the divers — and a set of metal detectors.
Amateur Divers Discover Priceless Treasure
The Caesarea gold treasure was found on an overcast day when Zvika Fayer and four of his friends were diving. Fayer, in particular, liked the area because it had so many fish and boasted a shipwreck, along with its cargo and pottery. He had visited the same area dozens of times without ever once coming across the treasure that would make international news. Like many other areas of archaeological significance, the place where Fayer was diving was open to the public, with the understanding that any treasure there should be reported immediately to the Israeli authorities.
The difference between this visit and the dozens of other times he had shown up to dive these waters is that there had recently been a major storm. This storm disturbed the area and, as a result, he saw something shimmering on the ocean floor. Initially, he thought that what he saw was little more than the foil wrapper of a piece of chocolate in the shape of pirate coins that are popular with children. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. He was shocked when he picked up the first piece and it wasn’t foil at all, but a piece of solid gold with Arabic inscriptions on it.
He then began sweeping sand away where he found first one more coin, then what seemed to be an endless amount of them. The final result was stunning. Over 2,000 gold coins from the Fatimid Caliphate, an Arab Shi’a religious empire that existed from the 10th to the 12th Century. Various denominations were found by the Israeli Antiquities Authority in their thorough investigation of the region, including dinars, half dinars, and quarter dinars, all of various weights and purity.
Israeli Authorities Step In
Mediterranean Beach in Caesarea, Israel
At first, the discoverers received a bit of a skeptical and accusatory treatment from the authorities. They wanted to know why the divers had removed the artifacts from their original location. However, the divers reported that there was another major storm incoming and that they were afraid that if they didn’t pull the coins out of the sand, that they would be lost forever. They did what they could to retrieve as many coins as they could immediately before the storm hit, then went back to help the authorities uncover more.
It is thought that the treasure was from a secondary ship that was wrecked on its way to the central government in Cairo with tax revenues. Other theories include that the treasure was payment for a garrison of soldiers stationed at Caesarea or that it came from a particularly successful merchant ship. Finally, there is a theory that the Caesarea gold treasure was buried for later retrieval by a family who were either killed or sold into slavery by Crusaders and was never able to recover it.
The State of Israel has strict laws about the removal of antiquities and treasures from their site of origin compared to many other countries. Doing so is punishable by up to five years in prison. So it’s not surprising that the amateur divers quickly reported their find.
The Contents of the Caesarea Gold Treasure
Map of Caesarea Gold Treasure
The oldest coin in the Hoard is a quarter dinar hailing from Palermo, Sicily. At this time. Sicily was a province of the Fatimid Caliphate. This coin dates from the late 9th Century. Most of the coins, however, were minted in Egypt during the reigns of Fatimid caliphs Al-Hakim his son Al-Zahir. Collectively the pair reigned from 996 to 1036.
The coins are in a condition that could accurately be described as miraculous. They required no extensive cleaning, despite being at the bottom of a body of water for over 1,000 years. Some of the coins were bent or had teeth marks on them, which is evidence that someone had physically inspected them at some point in the distant past. The coins are 24 karat gold, with purity ranging up to 95 percent, making them an incredible find, even just from the perspective of wealth.
For their part, the authorities said that the value was basically impossible to determine, declaring that it was “priceless.” Of course, one can always put a value on the weight of gold in dollars and cents, but it is virtually impossible to place a value on archaeological artifacts and historical finds of the kind those divers happened upon that fateful day. The total weight of the haul was 20 pounds (about 9 kilograms).
The sad ending of this story, however, is that the Caesarea gold treasure is now the property of the State of Israel. And, unlike many of the treasures that we have reported on from England, there is no finders’ fee. The people who found the gold under the sea are as rich as they were on the day they went diving. Thus, the State of Israel is different from the United Kingdom in that it relies upon sticks rather than carrots to get people to report their findings to the proper authorities. In Israel, the reward for finding gold for the government is the knowledge of a job well done — and staying out of prison.
Caesarea Gold Treasure: The Largest Discovered Treasure in the State of Israel originally appeared on kellycodetectors.com