Unidentified Object Off Florida Coast Could Be a 17th Century Submersible
Decades ago, a unique disc-shaped object was recovered off the coast of Florida.
Currently, it sits on display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West. Many visitors assume that it was simply a cauldron dating back to the 17th century. While the true origin of the object was largely unknown, researchers believe they have finally found the true history of the ancient item—the artifact could potentially be a 17th century diving bell that was tossed into the sea in order to recover treasure from sunken Spanish ships.
The Object May Not Be a Caldron At All
The unidentified object is made out of copper and was discovered in 1980. The artifact was located off the coast of Florida near a sunken “Spanish treasure galleon.”
It was presumed that the artifact had a rather mundane use—historians believed it was a simple cauldron used to cook fish stew. However, researchers now believe the ancient artifact had an entirely different use during the 17th century.
What Is the True Story of This Ancient Artifact?
If the artifact at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum isn’t a cauldron, there’s a good chance it could be part of an ancient diving bell.
This revelation would make the object one of the earliest models of a diving apparatus. The primitive diving bells of centuries ago had a surprisingly advanced design. Two researchers have concluded that the copper dome could be what’s left of a 17th century diving bell that was once used by treasure hunters.
17th Century Diving Bells Allowed Divers to Breathe Underwater
Diving bells are believed to be “the first significant mechanical aid to underwater diving.”
Diving bells would permit divers to work underwater by submerging the heavy bell that contained an air-filled container people would sit inside of. As the chambers lowered down into the water, the divers were able to search through the seas to salvage gold and other precious materials from the ocean.
Deep Sea Divers Discover the Artifact
The copper dome object was found by deep-sea divers near a wrecked Spanish treasure vessel called the Santa Margarita. The ship sank in 1622 in the Florida Straits, which is about 40 miles from Key West.
The object, then presumed to be a cauldron, was located nearly 160 feet (50 meters) below the ocean’s surface. Interestingly enough, the Santa Margarita set out in search of lost treasure, but the copper dome from the galleon is now considered to be treasure in itself.
On Display at the Museum
The copper dome has been on display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum for some time, though much of its backstory is still unknown. It was two maritime archaeologists who discovered that there may be more to the copper dome’s history.
A maritime archaeologist named Sean Kingsley explained that these “primitive submersibles” were usually submerged into shallow waters. The design of the diving bell allowed the bottom of the device to be open as the middle filled with air, giving divers a pocket of breathable oxygen in between dives.
Experts Are Confident of the Artifact’s Use
Wreckwatch Magazine, a publication for which Kingsley also serves as editor, recently published an article exploring the possible history of the mysterious artifact. Kingsley enlisted the help of maritime archaeologist Jim Sinclair, who also was part of the recovery team that brought the artifact to the surface.
In the article, Sinclair discussed why they believe that the object is the remains of a “primitive diving bell.” Kingsley revealed that a variety of diving bell designs were produced in the 17th century and the sunken artifact resembles one of them.
Revered Scientist Designed the Most Famous Diving Bell
One of the most famous primitive diving bell designs came from English scientist Edmond Halley in 1690, the man best known for his discovery of Halley’s Comet.
Kingsley and Sinclair stated that the object measures 58 inches in diameter and seems to have been built from two copper sheets. The heavy artifact is “studded with copper rivets all the way around.”
The Object Showed No Signs of Being Used to Cook Food
Due to its sheer size, researchers believe that the object is “much too large for cooking.”
Another interesting point the men made was that there were no “signs of charring or heating” on the object, which would be visible if it were in fact a cooking cauldron. Sinclair said that although the object has been referred to as a “copper cauldron” for years, he has seen many ancient ship cauldrons and none of them “look anything like this.”
Treasure Was Found Inside the Galleon’s Wreckage
The Santa Margarita set sail in 1622 in search of sunken treasure. Unfortunately, a hurricane came into the Florida Strait and the ship could not survive the extreme conditions. All 142 members of the ship’s crew lost their lives in the hurricane, and the Santa Margarita plummeted to the bottom of the ocean.
When the ship was finally explored by divers in 1980, they stumbled upon other unique objects inside the wreckage. Divers found millions of dollars worth of treasure inside the wrecked galleon, including gold bars, coins, and rock crystals.
The Original Diving Bell Design Dates Back to 1606
Sinclair has specific thoughts about the unidentified object’s origin. According to him, the copper dome is likely “the top part from the diving bell described by the salvager, Francisco Nuñez Melián, in 1625.”
Sinclair’s hypothesis would offer an explanation as to why the object was surrounded by numerous “watertight lower panels made of wood and leather.” Some believe that the diving bell was based on a design by Jerónimo de Ayanz in 1606. The Spanish inventor’s design would eventually be used to go pearl diving in Venezuela.
All Signs Point to the Object Being Used for Underwater Dives
Scientists believe that the primitive diving bell could have held up to three divers. They also think it may have been connected to a “surface support craft” with an air hose to pump oxygen into the device.
The diving bell theory has gained momentum after further historical research was conducted into the 17th century shipwreck. When the Santa Margarita was originally explored during the 17th century, divers located “350 silver ingots, thousands of gold coins, and eight cannons.”
Recovering Buried Treasure Is a Plausible Use
Because so many rich treasures were discovered aboard the wrecked Santa Margarita vessel, it is safe to assume that a diving bell was needed in order to generate such a haul.
It would make sense that the copper object is part of an ancient diving bell, making it a rare piece of early underwater technology. The bell would have allowed divers to remain underwater for longer periods of time, retrieving more treasures from the sea.
Fascinating Inventions of the 17th Century
The objects, artifacts, and treasures recovered from the sunken Santa Margarita ship are valued at $16 million today.
Kingsley and Sinclair have marveled at the amazing accomplishments of the 17th century such as creating a device that would allow divers to breathe underwater. While technology has made significant advancements as time passed, 17th century scientists created amazing inventions such as the diving bell. “Going into inner space – the depths of the sea – was for a long time one of the great tests of mankind,” Kingsley said.
Will We Ever Be Certain of the Object’s True Origin?
We may never know for certain what the unidentified object recovered from the Santa Margarita really is, but Kingsley and Sinclair make a strong case for the copper artifact being used as a diving bell.
Whether the object is an ancient cauldron, a diving bell, or something we have yet to realize, the incredible artifact is a part of history. It remains at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum where it will continue to be viewed by many people.