Tumbaga Metal: the first treasure wreck discovered in Spain

 Tumbaga Metal: the first treasure wreck discovered in Spain


Decades after Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the New World from 1492 to 1493, the Spanish conquistadors discovered large amounts of gold, silver, and copper. This discovery increased Spain's influence on the global economy. The large quantities of these three minerals were not only important to Spain from its colonies, but the nation became the center of an empire that traded with the rest of the world, importing and exporting goods between other nations.


Before the mid-16th century, colonial currencies that produced gold and silver coins had not yet been made in Mexico or Peru. In Mexico, Hernando Cortes, the main Spanish conquistador, sent to Spain the few precious metals that could be looted and melted down from jewelry, idols, and other Aztec and Tarascan artifacts. These elements were smelted into alloys of gold, silver, and copper ore. But there was one problem: the bars weren't reaching Spain.

In the summer of 1992, a rescue boat off the west coast of Grand Bahama discovered an incredibly large amount of metal buried in the ocean. When the family that worked for Marex donned their scuba gear to investigate, they discovered several alloys of silver and gold, but this discovery was only the tip of the iceberg. After contacting the headquarters of Marex, more than two hundred raw rods were brought to the surface of the same place.

After looking for alloys of gold and silver melted with copper, archaeologists discovered that it came from a Spanish ship that sank in 1528 as a result of a hurricane or that the ship ran aground in shallow water. Most bars can be identified from markings that were stamped after being perfectly melted, but as quickly as possible using ore briquettes some of which were just dipped in the sand.

These stems called "tumbaga" are identified by four details engraved on each:
1. The letters BV with "~" above B and "o" above V, probably refer to Bernardino Vázquez, one of Cortes' conquistadors, who oversaw the mixing and molding of each bar...
2. The purity of each column was specified in Roman numerals as a percentage of 2400 for purity of 100%. 1200 for 50%, 600 for 25%, and so on.
3. Serial numbers, starting with the letter R followed by Roman numerals.
4. A revenue stamp, part of a circular seal, the caption of which reads (grouped) CAROLVS QVINTVS IMPERATOR OF CHARLES V, King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The stamp most likely refers to the "fifth king": 20 percent of the treasury goes to the king.

The discovery of this set of bars is of great historical significance for the huge and intriguing stories of sunken "Spanish treasure" such as chests full of gold doublets from the early Spanish colonial empire. It is also the oldest treasure discovered in the Atlantic Ocean by the Coastal Spanish Empire between 1492 and 1820. The treasure was originally artifacts looted and melted down by the Aztecs and other pagan Native American tribes. The conquistadors essentially subjugated the natives and did not apply regular mining until 1528.
The word "tumbaga" comes from a historical document from a Spanish ruler of the Philippine Islands in the early 18th century who used the term "tumbaga metal" to refer to an alloy of copper and gold used by indigenous peoples. Today the term also includes an alloy of silver and copper, which consisted of most bars. (See attached link for "Tumbaga Saga)".
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