Will cannonball discovery lead to loss of the galleon is sunk ‘treasure’?

The cannonball is supposed to be from the wreck of the Spanish Galleon San Francisco.”

(Ian McCann)

Underwater archaeologists in Japan have a cannonball which could lead to the sunken remains of a treasure-laden Spanish galleon.

The cannonball is supposed to be from the wreck of the San Francisco, a Spanish galleon that sank in a storm off the coast of Japan in 1609, the BBC. Experts from the University of New England in Australia, Tokai University in Japan and the USA are involved in the project, which is funded by the Japanese government.

Researcher Ian McCann, a graduate student at the University of New England, told Fox News that the cannonball was found, in the last seconds of the team, the deepest dive, at a depth of 40 metres [131 ft].

“We were just about to head out of the shot line, when I noticed that a round concretion is about 5 meters [16 feet] of the line, something about it looked a little different, so I quickly swam over to it, scooped it up and at the head of the line,” he explained via e-mail. “As soon as I felt the weight, I knew that it was something important.”


Image of the dive (Ian McCann)

The San Francisco was on a trip through the Philippines, Mexico, when it sank, but to the discovery of the cannonball, no items have been recovered from the lost ship.

“I was aware that the stone cannon balls were made by the Spanish Manila Galleons, and began to feel quite hopeful that this was our first artifact of the San Francisco,” said McCann.

The researcher added that his first emotion at the discovery of the cannonball, there was one of relief. “This is our second year looking to the site,” he said. “The visibility can be poor, strong currents, and day after day we have to keep diving and to watch.”

After the recovery from the depths of the ocean, the ball was inspected by a geologist of Tokai University, which is the type of rock and the mineral elements in pyroxene, peridotite and feldspar.

Ian McCann (center) with project leader Dr Jun Kimura of Tokai University (left) (Ian McCann)

“This corresponds with the rock-type used for the other cannonballs found on Spanish ships involved in this trade,” says McCann. “More scientific tests need to be carried out, but so far we feel pretty sure the San Francisco.”


The cannonball could provide a vital clue to the remains of the San Francisco, which make possible the transport of a cargo with a 2017 value of $80 million, according to the BBC report.

“If it is of the San Francisco it is very important,” says McCann, noting that the Japanese government is searching for evidence of the wreck since the middle of the 19th century. However, the problem is that the part of the coast where the San Francisco sank ravaged by tsunamis over the centuries, what means that all possible information on the wreck that may have been held in communities along the coast has been lost.

It is inevitable that the find has led to interest in the San Francisco the cargo. “These galleons are a target for treasure hunters who spend much time and money looking for them because of the valuable cargo they carry,” says McCann. “San Francisco is the first found that has not been plundered, and we can learn exactly what the cargo and the hidden cargo was.”


The researcher explained that the sailors sometimes smuggle in their own cargo on board to make some extra money, and sometimes the organisations of the transport of the cargo would lie about the quantity and value to avoid paying taxes. “These vessels represented what may be referred to as the first model for the globalization, where the world trade,” he said. “For maritime archaeology, this will be a significant finding, a site [that] we can learn a lot more about the trade, which countries were involved and that is exactly what was traded.”

McCann acknowledges, however, that it is a very difficult task the search of other items from the San Francisco. Strong currents, hurricanes and tsunamis, for example, have drastically changed the underwater terrain where the galleon sank.

“Large slabs of stone, up to 4 tons each, are placed in the gullies where the artifacts are likely to be filed, making it difficult to determine whether there is something there,” he added. “Also the area is covered with seaweed, causing the search to all items, even guns, can be a little tricky.”

“With a good plan, an experienced crew and a good dose of luck it may be possible to find in the more historically important and valuable items. But to be honest, this is unknown,” he added.

“A lot of people invest in treasure hunters schemes only to lose their money, few are successful, because of the unknown nature of each site and the difficulty of working under water.”

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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