National Geographic : 2001 Jul
court transcript containing testimony from Jorge Soler, an artillery sergeant who witnessed the sinking of the Rosario. He said that two pirate ships attacked the ship. Shattered by artillery and musket fire, she headed for shore, where, abandoned by both her crew and the pirates, she sank at a place described by Soler as "a key that is at the end of the Organos towards the west." Archaeologists determined that this was a long reef off northwestern Cuba. Carisub divers hunted there in waters about 20 feet deep. At one spot their magnetometers indicated pieces of iron shrouded by coral. Con vinced they had found the Rosario, they set up a grid and plotted their finds. Much of the wreckage lay under tons of ballast and a type of coral that had grown rapidly enough to protect the wood from ship worms. The divers removed the coral with air hammers, freeing pieces of wood, spikes, and wood pins. The wreck was similar in size to the Rosario, and two anchors were the kind carried by ships like her. Divers brought up a gold chain, a gold earring, a gold ring, rosary beads, three emeralds, and some silver jugs. They also found pig bones and the carapaces of sea turtles-the food of sailors who worked on ships like the Rosario. The cannon and musket bullets also seemed right, as did the ship's timbers and coins from the time of Philip II. Then Diaz Gamez noticed that a few silver coins bore a tiny R with a peculiar curved leg. He recognized the R as an assayer's mark used only on coins minted between 1605 and 1613. The wreck could not be the Rosarioof 1590, so this one remains a wreck without a name. When a ship went down, her name often vanished with her. The sea soon destroyed manifests, logs, and other papers. Shipworms devoured wooden objects that could be identifying. Marine archaeologists can still learn from wrecks, however. Pottery and glass endure to tell of the past, as do gold and silver. All are valuable to the archaeologist, but it is the glitter of gold and silver that lures the treasure hunter. Diego Velizquez de Cuellar, who conquered Cuba in 1511, lusted for gold, wresting it from natives and working them to death to find more. A friar described Velazquez as a man "richer than anyone, with much experience in shedding or helping to shed the blood of these unfor tunate folk." In search of more gold he dispatched his kinsman and fellow conquistador, Hernan Cortes, to Mexico. After vanquishing the Aztec, Cortes sent back to Spain, in his first shipment, treasure that included two gold necklaces-one studded with 185 emeralds, the other with 172 emeralds and 10 pearls. That was the beginning of Spain's system for acquiring New World gold: Steal it, stamp it, ship it. The crown at first took half the gold and silver; the royal share later dropped to 30 percent, then 20 percent, and in a few cases 10 percent. Not all gold went to the king. Stamped on the disks of gold I saw in the vault were seals indi cating which ones were to go to churches and religious treasuries. Havana'soldest square, the Plaza de Armas was still the place to be seen in 1869, when this print appeared in Harper's Weekly. Each evening people showed off theirfinery in front of the Palace of the Captains General,home of the Spanish governor. Revolution was in the air though. Cuba gained its freedom from Spain in 1899.