Cooper’s Treasure: Marine archaeologist discovers shipwreck
The remarkable find was made on the Capitana, a ship which sank during a hurricane in 1715. The vessel was sailing past Florida on the return journey to Spain, before being downed by the freak natural disaster. Eric Schmitt – a Florida resident who found the vessel with his family, waited until July 2015 to unveil the find to mark the anniversary. He discovered 52 gold coins, 40ft of gold chain, and 110 silver coins and buttons – representing a life-changing find given Mr Schmitt’s previous bad luck with dives.
He admitted in an interview with National Geographic he usually comes back empty-handed.
He said: “Typically we excavate empty holes and find beer cans.”
But this time, in 15ft of water about 1,000ft off a beach in Fort Pierce, Florida, his team of divers came across treasure.
Brent Brisben, co-founder of 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, recalled: “It was absolutely unreal. I was blown away. I was literally shaking.”
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Mr Brisben said the find was “probably the biggest in terms of volume and rarity”.
The gold coins included an extremely rare specimen called a Tricentennial Royal worth over $500,000 (£400,000).
Mr Schmitt has continued his research into the site, and has found more coins and buttons as well as candlesticks.
However, no discovery since has been able to match his historic one million dollar haul.
All of the artefacts are under the jurisdiction of the US district court of the southern district of Florida under the care of Mr Brisben’s company. The state of Florida is entitled to 20 percent of anything Mr Brisben or his contractors find.
The state of Florida still sends representatives to examine discoveries made at the site of Capitana, with many items being transferred to museums.
After the state took its share of the finds, Mr Brisben and the Schmitt family split the earnings evenly.
A similar find was made at Cape Canaveral, on the northeast coast of Florida, a location that has fast become synonymous with the reemergence of ships from as far back as 500 years ago.
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One of the most notorious discoveries in recent years was La Trinite, a 16th-century French vessel which had been at the epicentre of battles between France and Spain.
Between 2013 and 2015, the Global Marine Exploration (GME) headed by its President Bobby Pritchett obtained 14 state permits to survey and dive a nearly 260-square kilometre area off the cape.
In 2016 metal detectors eventually picked up what emerged to be an iron cannon, lying alongside a bronze cannon with markings indicating French royalty.
Archaeologist, Chuck Meide, also lauded the discovery as he noted the La Trinite ship’s key role in the origin story of Florida, as it carried gold, silver and other goods to the region during France’s period of colonial ambition.
Mr Meide said: “In the world of ships and treasures, there’s really no better story than La Trinite.”
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