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The Anatomy of a Spanish Treasure

Dec 24, 2008

Although this Spanish piece of eight may look as if it’s been ravaged by the 386 years it spent on the bottom of the ocean, the fact is it looks much today as did when it was minted in ~1617 at Potosi, Bolivia.  At first, Spain’s new world mints took great pride in producing high quality coins. This special attention to detail required a costly and time consuming manufacturing process.  In short, it was a great way to make good looking coins, but not the best way to mint money to fuel the Spanish empire.

By the time Phillip III came to power in 1598, these time-consuming methods were being phased out in favor of time-saving production techniques. Coins such as the one recovered from the Atocha pictured above were made from odd shaped coin blanks which were quickly produced with little care to make the resulting coins even round. Coin edges had to be clipped to keep the piece of eight the right weight.  Coins from the Potosi mint were eventually considered of such poor quality that they were recalled in 1650.

However time has an interesting way of changing the perceived value of an object.  Today, these coins are highly valued because of their uniqueness.  When you hold one in your hand you have the feeling of not just of holding a piece of ancient history, but the sensation that you are looking at something as intrinsically unique as a snowflake, there was never one exactly like it before and there will never be one like it again.

According to the Atocha’s ship manifest, there are still 36 coin chests remaining to be found.  These coin chests represent just a portion of what’s on the manifest and still remains to be found.  Aqua Survey, Inc. is excited to be a in a continuing partnership with Mel Fisher’s Treasures.  Developing and deploying submersible high-powered electromagnetic metal detection systems to hunt for lost Spanish treasure has been an amazing adventure for Aqua Survey’s scientists and engineers.  We look forward to returning to the Atocha’s debris trail in 2009 to continue the investigation. 

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The Atocha - The Search Continues

Dec 09, 2008

It’s been an exciting time here at Aqua Survey.  Each week many of us wait to see what the team down in Key West will uncover next as we continue our work with Mel Fisher’s Treasures.  To view the latest Atocha Video episode which details the new developments in Aqua Survey’s search for the riches of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha please click here.

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Key West: Another Type of Treasure

Nov 20, 2008

Aqua Survey, Inc. was hired by Mel Fisher’s Treasures to survey a large area of the ocean bottom near Key West, FL in hopes of finding more treasure from the Nuestra Sénora de Atocha.  It was weeks later after our data had been generated into maps that we began to see the fruits of our labor.  The Mel Fisher divers brought up more than just treasure.  We soon found out that the bottom of the ocean in this area is littered with bomb fragments left over from earlier training missions of the U.S. Navy.  Apparently at times our EM detection system was picking up these pieces that were buried deep within the sands of the bottom.  Much of this debris would have been too deep for a magnetometer to record its presence.  Pictured here is Sr. Environmental Scientist, Don Nazario with what looks to have been a small gravity bomb and a military missile of some type.  All of the fragments are inert and none of these items pose any danger to the divers or crew.

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Key West: Treasure Recovered

Nov 06, 2008

Aqua Survey, Inc. is pleased to announce the recovery of several “Pieces of Eight” and other artifacts from the most famous Spanish treasure galleon ever lost at sea, the Nuestra Sénora de Atocha.  The discovery of carpenter’s tools, pottery shards, vessel spikes, musket balls and silver treasure resulted from more than a year’s planning and field work.  Contracted by Mel Fisher’s Treasures, Aqua Survey’s technical staff developed an electromagnetic (EM) detection system that could be used 40 miles offshore.  To succeed in 50 foot water depths we had to waterproof existing land-based surveying technologies (normally used for Unexploded Bomb (UXO) searches) and greatly increase the systems detection range.

Pictured above is a modern day treasure map from a section of our survey area.  The small green plus symbols represent magnetometer survey lanes.  The red circles represent magnetometer targets (“mag hits” or iron-based hits).  The hollow grey circle represents prior investigations that came up empty.  The gold, blue and green symbols represent prior investigations that produced Atocha cultural resources or treasure.  The blue cross-haired circles are EM hits identified by Aqua Survey’s system.  Investigation of areas associated with these hits has begun to produce treasure for our client.  How much treasure?  Only time and hard work will tell.

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Controlling Uncertainty

Oct 30, 2008

Many urban water bodies are crisscrossed with submerged or buried utilities while others are littered with uncharted munitions such as unexploded ordnance (UXO).  Utility markout services typically end at water’s edge.  Accurate as-built plans for submerged utilities are rare.  Over 200,000 submerged acres in the U.S. are suspected to contain uncharted UXO. Geophysical surveys reduce the probability coring equipment will strike a submerged UXO or utility causing property damage, lost service and imperil human life.  Tools such as sub-bottom profilers, electromagnetic detectors and magnetometers can be affordably deployed prior to sampling to safeguard field personnel, the greater public and the environment.

Look before you dig!

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