Everybody dreams of finding buried treasure, but only a few ever succeed. Even so, these discoveries are rarely as straightforward as you might expect. You have to be careful about what you dig up.
So what happens when one team of expert treasure hunters unearth something no one expected? These explorers gave into their curiosity and got wrapped up in a centuries-old mystery. Before long, they uncovered a forgotten history, full of dark and unimaginable secrets.
Beneath the calm waters of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, there is a massive secret, one that lay hidden for hundreds of years. But it didn’t stay that way forever.
Flickr / Christian Loader
It is the wreck of the Whydah, a massive ship built to hold 150 men and several hundred tons of cargo. It went missing off the coast of New England in 1717, and many assumed it was lost forever.
However, explorer Barry Clifford discovered the wreck of the Whydah in 1984, and he has been digging up artifacts from the site ever since. His exploits make him one of the greatest treasure hunters of all time.
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Barry has long been on the hunt for a treasure that will make him a legend. He once believed he found the remnants of the Santa Maria from Christopher Columbus’ original 1492 voyage, but tests later determined it was a different vessel.
The Whydah, however, was a monumental find. It was the flagship of one of history’s greatest pirates: Black Sam Bellamy. This captain was known as the ‘Robin Hood of the Sea,’ and for good reason.
For one thing, Bellamy only targeted wealthy merchants and tried to use as little violence as possible. His crew members received equal pay and respect, even those who were Native Americans or former slaves.
In fact, the Whydah was originally the property of slave traders until Bellamy seized it by force and freed the captives aboard.
Valparaiso University, Wikimedia Commons
Most famously, Bellamy pulled off the biggest heists in pirate history. Historians estimate that he plundered the modern equivalent of $120 million throughout his career.
These daring exploits made Bellamy one of the most talked-about pirates of his time. He rose above his criminal origins to become a bona fide folk hero.
Unfortunately, Bellamy didn’t have much time to enjoy his success. A massive storm sank the Whydah, claiming untold amounts of treasure and most of the crew, including Bellamy himself.
Centuries later, Clifford and his colleagues have unearthed countless relics and treasures from the wreck, and they established the Whydah Pirate Museum to share Bellamy’s story.
Even though Clifford’s team has been studying this site for decades, he still felt like they were only scratching the surface. Then, one diving mission in late 2016 changed everything.
The explorers located a large chunk of debris from the Whydah that had many artifacts trapped inside of it. They hauled it up to dry land for a closer look.
It presented a virtual treasure trove, with genuine coins and seafaring equipment jutting through the rough surface. But this motherlode contained one thing the scientists didn’t expect to find… human bones.
They came across a femur just a short distance away from what appeared to be Bellamy’s pistol. Could it be the remains of the late great Captain himself?
Wikimedia Commons / WellCome Images
Clifford knew they needed proof, so he recruited a team of forensic scientists. They extracted DNA from the bone and compared it to that of one of Bellamy’s descendants in the United Kingdom. At last, the results came in…
Flickr / vâniamoreira1
But it was not a match. This bone likely belonged to an anonymous crew member, but certainly not to Captain Bellamy. The elusive Black Sam slipped away from authorities once again.
The bad news sunk Clifford’s theory faster than the Whydah. Nevertheless, the bone gave researchers the chance to learn more about the typical sailor from that era.
Clifford can still take pride in his ongoing excavation of the Whydah. After all, no other famous pirate ship has been studied so closely. Nobody can question his accomplishments or contributions to history.
Besides, the mysteries of the Whydah are still out there in the briny deep, and Bellamy’s final resting place may even surface someday. All it will take is the right person to find it.
The bones in this sunken wreck certainly were a shocking discovery, but the mystery continues. Take the warship, Kronan. It was the crown jewel of Sweden’s naval fleet in 1672. Tragically, it sank just four years later, killing nearly all 800 people on board and becoming permanently lost at sea.
The Kronan was the largest ship ever built for the Swedish navy, and it served as the flagship vessel when it was completed in 1672. It took seven years to construct, and once it was finished, it sailed the seas like a multi-masted beast.
The ship’s luck ran out in 1676. During a maritime battle, the Kronan hit rough waters and capsized while making a sharp turn. The gunpowder on board ignited and that was that.
For three hundred years, the Kronan sat peacefully at the bottom of the ocean and housed all sorts of aquatic life. Would anyone ever discover its whereabouts and gather the artifacts inside?
Amazingly, in 1980, an amateur researcher named Anders Franzen discovered the shipwreck’s location. The Swedish government sponsored yearly archaeological dives to collect any lost artifacts. What was hidden in the ship for so many years?
The divers who went on the expeditions were in awe. It was obvious the ship was used for war. Openings in the vessel’s sides had old rusted cannons protruding out.
After a thorough search of the ship, it was easy to picture what the massive structure looked like sailing the high seas. There were dozens of small rooms for housing the men aboard, and each one was equipped with weaponry.
The divers had special equipment used to help clear the sand and mud that accumulated on all the surface areas. Buried underneath was a trove of ancient treasures…
Whatever the divers recovered from the wreck was going straight into the Kalmar County Museum in Sweden. The museum had an entire Kronan exhibit ready for unveiling once they excavated the items.
The dive teams found an abundance of old rifles and firearms. The weapons revealed fascinating information about seventeenth-century warfare. Information that experts may not have even known.
After the guns were excavated, researchers cleaned off the grime and rust so they looked new. They now sit on display at the Kalmar Museum. But, firearms weren’t the only amazing things found…
They also found objects that spoke more to everyday life in the 1600s, like musical instruments, including violins and trumpets. The people on board the ship needed forms of entertainment, and playing tunes certainly helped pass the time at sea.
One of the expeditions came across this pristine gold ring. Can you believe after three hundred years at the bottom of the ocean the gem inside still has a sparkle to it? This looks like something straight out of a Tiffany’s display case.
When the Kronan sank, it was carrying loads of gold and silver coins, and the divers found an abundance of them among the rubble. It was Sweden’s largest coin discovery ever, with coins minted in Sweden, Egypt, Syria, and even Turkey!
One of the most important things they found was a wooden plaque with the name of the ship scrawled across it. It may not have been worth as much as the gold and silver, but this plaque was an intact part of history, and equally as important as everything else.
The Kalmar County Museum was more than ecstatic to display all of Kronan’s lost treasure. However, they had no idea that the most interesting item was yet to be found…
Just when researchers thought they unearthed nearly everything of importance, one of them came across this black tin jar nestled in the mud – and it was heavy. More gold and silver coins, perhaps?
Twitter / @SarahWardAU
When scientists finally pried open the can, they were overwhelmed by a pungent smell. They stared at the grayish lump of mush and suddenly it hit them. It was some kind of preserved cheese product!
They described the smell like a mix of yeast and Roquefort cheese. During the era when the Kronan was built, cheese was a real status symbol. It separated the rich from the poor. In this case, however, the cheese was well past its prime.
No one intended to add this Kronan cheese to a gourmet cheese plate anytime soon, but just the fact it was still in relatively good condition stunned everyone. Where’s Andrew Zimmern when you need him? He’d probably give this a taste!
The Kronan cheese sits on display at the museum along with the rest of the findings. Since the ship was discovered in 1980, diving teams have already collected over 30,000 artifacts! The Kronan discover proves that sometimes great men find shipwrecks, but other times great shipwrecks find men…