A group of underwater archeologists may have unraveled a mystery that is 400 years old. Their search took them to shores close to Tokyo and what they found on the seabed could be an absolute game changer. All it took was one cannonball.
Game Changing Artifact?
If the discovery turns out to be what the archeologists suspect it is, it could unlock many secrets about an incident that took place during the 17th Century. Seeing that it was a shipwreck, the discovery could potentially mean millions…
Once In A Lifetime
Soon enough, this newly assembled team embarked on a trip to the shores of the Chiba province, not too far from Tokyo. This time, they wouldn’t have to be so careful with their budgets as this particular project was funded by the Japanese government. When the team found out that they would be embarking on a mission to search for the San Francisco shipwreck, they simply couldn’t believe their luck. Despite knowing that it could be an impossible mission with no clear leads, they were ready…
From the very start, Dr. Jun Kimura was thoroughly apprehensive about the team’s chances of success. He knew how enormous this task would prove to be. A historically significant ship had already been missing for hundreds of years. Many treasure hunters have risked their lives trying to find the shipwreck, all to no avail. “We hoped to recover something that could shed light on the shipwreck, however little it may be,” Kimura said. He had plenty of other reasons to be apprehensive…
Nothing in life comes easy, and this couldn’t have been truer as far as this team’s mission was concerned. Despite the fact that the team consists of skilled, learned archeologists from Australia, Japan, and even the U.S., anyone would be faced with the same natural perils. The Japanese seabed is very tough, with many sandy and rocky surfaces. Not to mention, the many ferocious and poisonous fauna in the waters. So what exactly was this team looking for?
The San Francisco Shipwreck
In order to understand the significance of the mission, look no further than a local Chiba museum. The Onjuku town museum of history and folklore has exhibits that paint a clear picture of the ship that Kimura and McCann were searching for – The San Francisco. This particular ship was a physical manifestation of Spain’s prosperity during the 1600’s. And the ship was just one of many that were sailing in the Pacific Ocean during that period.
While it was sailing from the Philippines to Mexico, the San Francisco sank, without a trace of where it disappeared. However, its historical significance is undeniable. According to Dr. Kimura, it “impacted the relationship between Spain, the Philippines, Mexico and Japan.” The reason it was traveling from the Philippines to Mexico was because it was transporting items from one Spanish colony to another. But why did Kimura and his team find this shipwreck so important compared to others?
Searching For Treasure
Kimura and the team believed, along with the Japanese government, that the many ships, including the San Francisco, were carrying valuable items that today, could potentially be worth millions. This is the type of tantalizing mission that no seasoned archeologist can turn down. After giving up half of his business, McCann was frothing at the mouth at the idea of recovering a ship full of precious treasure. So how exactly did these supposed riches sink to the bottom of the Chiba shores?
Apparently, one of the passengers aboard the San Francisco was the Filipino governor Don Rodrigo de Vivero Velasco. After surviving the sinking, he documented the details in a book. His notes claimed that on September 30, 1609, a storm forced the ship into the Chiba province reefs. “The ship was getting destroyed in pieces among some cliffs on the head of Japan,” he wrote. “All of us survivors were over the riggings and ropes, because the galleon was getting broken piece by piece.”
Survival Of The Fittest
It wasn’t just Velasco who survived the shipwreck. Hundreds of other people survived too. This was mainly due to the governor’s good ties with Japan. As a result, Japan built their first modern ship and transported the survivors back to Mexico. Japanese representatives went with them, making sure they were safe. In this painting from the Onjuku town museum, you can see how local Chiba fishermen helped saved the hundreds of people desperately trying to get to the mainland after the wreckage.
Token Of Appreciation
In light of the San Francisco shipwreck, the King of Spain gave this stunning clock to the Japanese Shogun. It was his way of saying thanks for the compassion the Japanese people showed to his people. “They were the first Japanese ever to cross the Pacific,” Kimura said. “The Spanish king highly appreciated what Japan had done for the survivors, so diplomatic exchanges between Japan and Spain started.” However, this was only the beginning of a fruitful relationship between the two countries…
The Shogun’s father, Tokugawa Ieyasu was determined to expand the trade routes between the countries. Velasco obliged and told the Japanese that he could send 50 Mexican experts to help with Japan’s silver mining. As a trade-off, the two agreed that Spanish priests living in Japan would be protected from persecution. They also agreed that further shipwrecked boats would continue to be supported by the Japanese. But did the team end up finding anything else connected to the shipwreck?
Man Behind The Mission
Dr. Jun Kimura works for the Department of Maritime Civilizations at Tokai University and has been working with a team of archeologists along the coasts of Japan. But his work started in Vietnam, where he studied the site of a sea battle. The study centered around a Vietnamese commander who had been invaded by a fleet sent by China’s Kublai Khan. The Vietnamese were victorious. But it wasn’t just Kimura who had a huge part to play in this recent discovery…
Another avid researcher who helped Kimura in this mission was Australian Ian McCann. Together with Kimura and Mark Staniforth, this ensemble of gifted researchers have given up a lot to unearth the truths of these Far East shores. McCann actually sold half of his fortunes in order to work in this field and share his findings with the world. “Some guys choose to go around in a Porsche. This is what gets me. This is my lifestyle now,” McCann said.
At first, the search seemed fruitless. Once they got to the seabed, Kimura and the team pulled out their metal detectors and stayed down for as long as possible. “We were in dark, murky waters,” Kimura said. The search continued for two straight years, as the team endured the elements and withstood many underwater challenges. Then, Kimura could merely watch in awe as his Australian companion, McCann, found something. What was the potential clue?
After taking a deep dive 131 ft below the surface, the team was finally in store for something special. The Australian researcher from the University of New England, Ian McCann, couldn’t believe his luck. “Ian just saw an unusual shape on the sandy bed,” Kimura said. “He recovered it but then we had to go back to the surface as our air had nearly run out.” But what exactly was this peculiar, spheric item that they had found?
Whatever it was, one thing was for sure, Ian McCann was thoroughly impressed with what he had found. “We were just about to head up the shot line when I noticed a round shaped concretion about 5 meters [16 feet] from the line,” he said. “Something about it looked a little different so I quickly swam across to it, scooped it up and headed up the line. As soon as I felt the weight, I knew it was something important.”
Sense Of Relief
After already working in these waters for two years, the team had their doubts as to whether they would ever find anything worth all the effort. McCann admitted that his first feeling upon finding the supposed cannonball was pure relief. “This is our second year looking for the site,” he said. “The visibility can be poor, currents strong, and day after day we have to keep diving and looking.” But the question remained, was it actually a cannonball?
Was It A Cannonball?
Early on, the team were convinced that they had found a cannonball. It was a round stone that weighed nearly seven pounds. Not only that, they firmly believed that it was from the San Francisco. This is because it was very similar to other cannonballs they had found from a sunken ship close to the Philippines. But they didn’t want to jump the gun and knew that a thorough chemical analysis needed to be performed for confirmation.
If the mysterious ball turned out to be an actual cannonball, this could spark huge things for the ensemble of international archeologists. It could mean that they are actually one step closer to the finding the San Francisco. As far as the team was concerned, it was a cannonball until proven otherwise and if so, it would officially be the first artifact ever to be found from the shipwreck. It would also make it clearer as to where exactly the ship sank.
Once the “cannonball” had been recovered from the depths of this dark, murky ocean, it was closely analyzed by a geologist from Tokai University, the same institution that Kimura works at. After many tests were taken, the researcher was able to identify the type of material the ball was made from and what mineral elements it consisted of. These included pyroxene, peridotite, and feldspar. It seems like the archeologists were able to make some fascinating observations from these findings…
Based on the composition of this ball, McCann believes that there is a clear connection between it and other cannonballs that have been found in the Pacific. “This matches the rock type used for other cannonballs found on Spanish vessels involved in this trade,” he said. “More scientific tests need to be conducted but so far we are feeling quite confident it’s from the San Francisco.” But there is a good reason for McCann’s strong sense of relief…
A Long Search
This hasn’t been the first time that the Japanese government has been in search of the shipwreck. In fact, they have been looking for the cargo since the mid-19th century. The tragic part of this though, is that tsunamis have been consistently unforgiving to the Chiba coastline. This means that any information found about the San Francisco by local communities has been, in a sad sense of irony, wiped out from the fierce waters. But there are more causes for concern…
The news of Kimura and McCann’s discovery has and will continue to alert unauthorized treasure hunters. “These galleons are a target for treasure hunters who spend a lot of time and money looking for them because of the valuable cargo they carry,” McCann said. “The San Francisco will be the first one found that has not been pillaged and we can learn exactly what the manifested cargo and the hidden cargo was.” But the significance of the potential discovery runs much deeper…
Seeds Of Globalization
Word of mouth is that sailors often smuggled items onto ships like the San Francisco. As a result, the transportation organizations would lie about these extra transactions in an effort to evade paying taxes. “These vessels represented what could be termed as the first model for globalization, true world trade,” McCann said. “For maritime archeology, this will be a significant find, a site [from which] we can learn a lot more about the trade, what countries were involved and exactly what was traded.”
However, McCann knows too well how challenging it’s going to be to try and find any more items that may have come from the San Francisco. He’s well aware of the tsunami and typhoons that have drastically affected the landscape of the Chiba coastline and the underwater terrain. “Large slabs of rock, up to 4 tons each, have collapsed into the gullies where artifacts are likely to be lodged, making it difficult to determine if there is anything there,” he said.
Nevertheless, McCann is confident of the future, despite not knowing what it may hold. “With a good plan, an experienced crew and a good dose of luck it may be possible to find the more historically important and valuable items,” he said. “But honestly, this is unknown…A lot of people invest in treasure hunters schemes only to lose their money, very few are successful, due to the unknown nature of each site and the difficulty of working underwater.”
The supposed cannonball, however, is not the only artifact to be discovered that Kimura and the team believe is connected to the San Francisco shipwreck. They have also found a piece of timber in the same underwater region. Kimura and McCann claim that the material was probably part of the ship that sank on the Chiba reefs all those years ago. But there is something particularly special about the cannonball that could mean big things…
Revealing The Trade Routes
Kimura and the team hope that the cannonball can shed more light on the historic trade routes in this part of the world. The Manila Galleons are the Spanish trade ships that connected the Philippines with Mexico for nearly three centuries. They were believed to make up to two round-trips per year. Not only does it allude to the ships, but also the actual route between Manila and Acapulco. Moreover, the potential treasure within the San Francisco could be huge…
Ian McCann is thoroughly impressed with his discovery and believes that skeptics shouldn’t underestimate the cannonball’s potential. “A cannonball may not sound like much but it indicates the general vicinity where the vessel went down,” he said. “It is the only Spanish Manila galleon that has not been plundered by treasure hunters.” McCann also said that the ship probably “carried fabulously valuable cargo…by today’s value the cargo may have had a value of around $80m.”
Kimura’s Not Giving Up
Although the team hasn’t actually found the San Francisco yet, they do believe that they have made a major breakthrough that acts as a huge stepping stone towards the final prize. “During our search, we believe we detected iron. It could be from modern times. But we want to keep searching in this area.” The team has agreed with the Japanese government to carry on searching the area until the end of March, 2019, giving them some more precious time.