National Geographic : 1965 Jan
Seven-pound biscuit of gold bears the stamp XI, which the finders believe to be an inventory number. Other ingots bearing Roman numerals VII, VIII, IX, and XIII have been brought up. Uncovered beneath six feet of ocean floor, the ingot contains metal worth an estimated S3,000-only a fraction of its value as a museum piece. Surrounding spatters of pure gold could have spilled from the pot of British freebooters who attempted to melt down coins recovered from the Plate Fleet wrecks. The bits lay in the sand and scrub near other evidences of a camp established by the Spanish salvagers, which pirates later raided and sacked. Mr. \Wagner theorizes that the Spanish probably would have kept the gold in coin form, whereas the intruders might have hurriedly and surreptitiously melted down the doubloons. Pride of a grandee, this lovely gold chain carries a pendant with tracings of miniature paintings on both sides. Though covered with glass, the por traits were eroded by centuries of immersion in sea water. nearby, to gather the other bits and pieces that had spewed from the dredge. Then Dan and I went to work with our fingers, probing into the clay and washing away a small area at a time. Only inches deep I felt something solid. Another fifteen minutes of gentle labor released a perfect white porcelain bowl traced with delicate blue designs. Two more bowls and four cups came to light. K'ang-hsi Chinese porcelain, more than 250 years old! Here is another of the sea's ironies -a great ship broken in the surf, its timbers smashed, but these fragile porcelains survived in all their delicate beauty. They had come more than halfway around the world: By traders' caravan and Chinese junk to a bazaar in the Philippines, then aboard the annual Manila galleon to Acapulco, by mule over the mountains to Veracruz, embarked again in the Plate galleons, sent to the bottom in a ship-rending storm, preserved more than two centuries in the restless ocean, and now restored to the hand of man (page 14). Our finds date from the last half of the 17th century, during the K'ang-hsi Period (1662 1722). We found three distinct styles of china. Besides our blue-on-white, later finds have turned upl) a pure white, with only a faint trac ing visible where a decorative border once circled the rim. A third type is covered with black enamel with traces of gold decoration. It, too, shows traces of a decorative trim, probably a gilded border, of flowers, foliage, fish, and shrimp, but the thin gold has nearly all peeled away. Researches by I)r. Kelso, our curator, re veal that such porcelain was often packed in the same clay, or petuntse, from which it was made. This, we think, was our muddy clay that protected these delicate objects through two and a half centuries. Thus the china was probably new-never used bv man.