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Beyond Oak Island: The search for Aztec and Inca gold in Spanish galleons

Rick and Marty Lagina in the War Room on Oak Island
Rick and Marty Lagina dream of Aztec gold at the bottom of the ocean. Pic credit: History

This week’s episode of Beyond Oak Island was one of the more fascinating as the guys joined in on the hunt for sunken Aztec and Inca gold off the coast of Florida.

The Lagina’s asked an old friend, diver John Chatterton onto the show to discuss his work on hunting for treasure on old shipwrecks.

Chatterton had helped out the guys on Oak Island a couple of times in 2015 and again in 2016 when he dove down Borehole C-1 and seemed to get into trouble. All part of a normal workday, he jokingly told the guys.

Since that incident, Chatterton and his team have been looking for ancient Inca and Aztec gold in Spanish shipwrecks.

In the 18th century, the Spanish Empire was busy plundering riches from the indigenous populations of southern and central America, and in 1733, a fleet of 22 ships laden with treasure set off from Havana, Cuba, destined for the old country.

The fleet had just rounded the Florida Keys when it was hit by a hurricane, which scattered or sunk most of the ships. Only five vessels survived the battering; the rest took their cargo to the bottom of the Atlantic.

300-year-old treasure lays off the coast of Florida

Fast forward 300 years, and Chatterton and his team comb the bottom of the ocean floor to find the wrecks and their treasure.

On the show, we saw the guys diving into the depths and actually exploring the hull of a shipwreck. We even got to see a cannon, albeit heavily obscured by a reef.

We also saw them scanning the sea bed with a Magnetometer, a really cool high tech piece of equipment that senses the earth’s magnetic field. Ferrous metals and iron create their own magnetic field, and when the Magnetometer picks that up over the Earth’s field, then the guys know they’ve found something.

Magnetometer scans for shipwrecks
The Magnetometer scans for shipwrecks on the ocean floor. Pic credit: History

Chatterton also told the Oak Island guys about his efforts to find the San Miguel, another Spanish galleon that was loaded with gold but sank after encountering a hurricane.

The San Miguel sank off the coast of the modern-day Dominican Republic in 1551, which makes it the oldest known shipwreck in the Caribbean.

Chatterton says he located it on a previous expedition but that he now needs to work with the Dominican government to bring the loot to the surface.

It’s very tough work but hopefully very rewarding. Marty Lagina points out that there are approximately three million shipwrecks worldwide and that just one Spanish galleon is worth about $1 billion. Why would anybody want to do any other job?

More from Beyond Oak Island

In last week’s episode, the guys sent Gary Drayton in search of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine in Arizona. Legend says that the mine discovered by one man in the 19th century contained possibly trillions of dollars worth of gold. But nobody has been able to find it since.

The week before, the guys discussed the legal battles that treasure hunters face and the moral implications of who should hold on to historical artifacts.

Beyond Oak Island airs at 10/9c on History.

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