All posts by Archaeology World Team

Leucocarpa, the Dazzling White Olive From Magna Graecia

The Unique Ancient Tree that Produces Pearly-White Olives

A unique variety of olive trees is known as leucolea, found mostly in southern Italy. It is found in the area known historically as “Magna Graecia” or Greater Greece.

The name of the leukocarpa or leukolea olive is primarily derived from the Greek words for white (Leucos), olive (elaea) and seed (carpos), though developing in its small form. But its fruit is delicate in ivory or pearly-white during the process of maturation.

Experts claim that this particular seed was most probably first introduced to the south of Italy during the years of the Greek colonization of the Italian peninsula and Sicily.

This unique white olive tree is part of the broader family of olives, known to the scientific world as ”Olea Europea”, which means European olive.

The south of Italy is not the only place where this ancient olive is produced, but this region is the main area of production for Leucocarpa olives in modern times.

The Greek colonies of Southern Italy and their dialects

Similar white olives are found in Greece today but they are quite rare. They can also be spotted in some areas along the Mediterranean coasts of northern Africa and all the way west to the Atlantic shores of Portugal.

However, the Leucocarpa olive is mostly known by different local names, and its products are not exported in an organized and systematic way.

The Leucocarpa was traditionally used in past centuries by the communities of the Mediterranean, mainly for religious purposes, since its white color became synonymous with purity.

There is evidence that even the Christian churches of the region were known to use the special olive oil produced from this variety to anoint emperors and kings, for example.

Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the Leucocarpa was propagated less and less over the years, and its olives and oils are now rare products, but its delicate beauty is truly quite arresting.

Anyone who is interested in seeing how this ancient olive or olive oil tastes will have to be extremely persistent since it is not very easy to find them in regular supermarkets!

Walls made of human bones discovered under Ghent cathedral

Walls made of human bones discovered under Ghent cathedral

At a cathedral in Belgium, Gruesome walls made entirely of human bones were uncovered.

Specialists believe that in the 17th century, grisly structures were constructed using bones 200 years old at the time.

The legs and shiny bones of various people were entirely made from various adults. Spaces were filled with skulls between the wall, many of which were shattered

The grisly structures were built in the 17th Century using remains that were 200 years old at the time

Archaeologists from Ruben Willaert bvba in Bruges said the find was unique to Belgium, the Brussels Times reported.

“This is a phenomenon we’ve not yet come across here,” said project leader Janiek De Gryse.

The discovery was made at Saint-Bavo’s cathedral in the city of Ghent. The building has been in use for more than a thousand years. Similar structures made using human remains have been found at ancient sites across Europe, including the catacombs of Paris.

Researchers said the Saint-Bravo bones appeared to date to the late 15th Century.

“For the moment we would place the actual construction in the 17th and 18th century,” De Gryse said, “although there’s a great deal of research still to be done.”

The walls of bones appear to have been built during a time when the graveyard was being cleared. It’s possible that the structures were pieced together while workers dug up old graves to make way for new ones.

“When clearing a churchyard, the skeletons cannot just be thrown away,” De Gryse explained.

“Given that the faithful believed in a resurrection of the body, the bones were considered the most important part.

“That is why stone houses were sometimes built against the walls of city graveyards: to house skulls and the long bones in what is called an ossuary.”

The discovery was made at Saint-Bavo’s cathedral in the city of Ghent

In other archaeology news, a fossil hunter has found pieces of Jurassic history encased in golden-snitch-like spheres. Hitler’s secret vegetable garden has been uncovered at a bunker in Poland.

And, the face of a 1,000-year-old Viking warrior woman with a gruesome battle wound across her skull has been revealed.

People may have lived in Brazil more than 23,120 years ago

Humans Present at Brazil’s Santa Elina Rock Shelter 23,120 Years Ago, Confirms National Museum of Natural History in Paris

Exact Bone Dating by researchers in the Paris National Museum of Natural History. Details of the new date have been published in a paper in the scientific journal Antiquity of Cambridge University, where the research team places modern people far before the 20,000 years ago in the rock shelter of Santa Elina in Brazil.

Santa Elina rock shelter excavation site above left and sloth bone ornaments with drilled holes above right.

The rock shelter of Santa Elina in central Brazil contains remarkable rock art and confirmation of the first Americans ‘ lengthy occupation.

Humans Present at Brazil’s Santa Elina Rock Shelter 23,120 Years Ago, Confirms National Museum of Natural History in Paris

Occupation of the site is dated to several different periods, suggesting that groups of hunter-gatherers only dwelt at the site when climate favoured hunting in the region. The irregular periods of occupation spread across the Late Pleistocene and Late Holocene.

For many years now teams of archaeologists investigating ancient human occupations sites across Brazil have produced evidence of extremely early colonisation of this part of South America.

The earliest dates associated with Brazilian archaeological research are close to 60,000 years ago. However such extreme figures for colonisation remain highly controversial.

Excavations carried out at the Santa Elina rock shelter between 1984 and 2004 explored three sediment layers containing the remains of hearths, stone artefacts and bones associated with the extinct giant sloth species Glossotherium.

Several of the bony plates from the sloth skin had been converted into ornaments of some kind by the resident humans, the added notches and holes may have allowed these plates to be worn on the body.

Glossotherium, like other giant ground sloths, was a herbivore. It was 13 ft (4m) and weighed 2210 lbs. It would have been one of the largest herbivores in South America. This species became extinct around 12,000 years ago.

Scientists utilised three separate dating methods to investigate samples of charcoal, sediment and the sloth bones. The revealed dates securely place people at the Santa Elina site well over 23,120 years ago. Humans groups abandoned the site after a short period, but later groups utilised the rock shelter again between 10,120 to 2,000 years ago.

The new dates from Santa Elina further erode the consensus understanding that the first modern humans, known as the Clovis people, reached the Americas by walking across a land bridge between Northeast Asia and North America just 13,000 years ago.

In recent years a steady series of archaeological finds have caused a growing number of archaeologists to abandon the ‘Clovis first’ colonisation model.

The evidence of hunter-gatherers living in the Santa Elina rock shelter 23,120 years ago is highly problematic for scientists that still believe humans reached the Americas by walking into North America – the rock shelter is over 12,000 kilometres from the proposed entry site.

Not only is Santa Elina far from the earliest Clovis sites, but it is also over 2000km from the coast in a heavily forested region.

These facts call into question the way in which the American continent was colonised as it is logical to suspect that humans lived along the coastline long before making the arduous journey into the Brazilian interior 23,120 years ago.

A growing number of researchers suspect that the first settlers used canoes to colonise the Americas and perhaps drifted down the Pacific Coast in simple watercraft before heading inland.

Some South American sites once occupied by Stone Age people are closer to the Atlantic coast, raising the possibility of the first colonisation involving a movement of people from Africa.

Paleolithic ‘Sanctuary’ Containing Rock Art From 15,000 Years Ago Discovered in Spain

Paleolithic ‘Sanctuary’ Containing Rock Art From 15,000 Years Ago Discovered in Spain

Archeologists have discovered a treasure trove of fossil rock art that is 15,000 years old in the autonomous region of Catalonia, Spain. In an investigation, the engravings were found on cave walls. The art is believed to prove that the site once was a religious sanctuary or shrine.

Some of the caves, in October 2019 were investigated by a team of scientists headed by Assistant Professor Joseph María Vergès of the University of Rovira I Virgili.

They had just resumed their work after some serious flooding in the area and were working on a cave known as the Font Major, which is not far from the hamlet of L’Espluga de Francolí. In particular, they were investigating the cave to establish its archaeological potential, and what they found was breathtaking.

The team stumbled across the carvings on October 30, 2019, after resuming investigations following a bout of flooding. They decided not to make the find public until it was secured, to ensure it was not destroyed

They found around 100 examples of rock art, which are mostly examples of abstract art. Also found were some 40 images that represented animals including deer, horses, and oxen, which once inhabited this part of Europe. Catalan News quotes Prof. Vergès as stating that “we made a fortuitous, extraordinary and unexpected discovery.”

The sheer number and the quality of the art mean that they are an important discovery and are invaluable for researchers. Newsweek reports that “the team says the engravings were produced on a layer of soft, sandy silt.” The art was found in a difficult to access part of the Font Major cave. The team did not immediately announce the discovery to the public as they wanted to secure and study the site first.

Paleolithic rock art of horse found in Font Major Cave near L’Espluga de Francolí.

The ancient art is the oldest that has been found in Catalonia, and there is nothing else like them in the region. The team relied on a study of their style, which revealed the majority of the images date to around 13,000 BC and comes from the “Upper Paleolithic, and more specifically to the Magdalenian period,” according to El Periodico.

It is believed based on an analysis of their style that some could be even older, while others come from the later Neolithic period. The Catalan Institute of Archaeology (IPHES), stated that the discovery was “a milestone in the history of Catalan archaeology,” reports Newsweek.

More rock art found in Font Major Cave near L’Espluga de Francolí.

The archaeologists believe that the cave was once a shrine or a religious sanctuary. It is likely that religious and other ceremonies were held at the site.

The artworks may have had some magical or spiritual significance for the Stone Age people who created them. Given the various styles of the images, it would appear that the site was considered sacred for a considerable time.

Catalan News reports Prof. Vergès as saying that “the sanctuary may have even been bigger but that some of the engravings had in fact been erased by human activity.” In the past, the cave was part of an adventure trail. Many visitors had touched and drew graffiti on the walls with the engravings and had unwittingly destroyed the Stone Age art.

The shrine or sanctuary cannot be visited because of the small size of the cave and especially because of the delicateness of the rock art. Newsweek states that “the archaeologists say that the engravings can be easily damaged or destroyed with even minimal contact.” Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the shrine will ever be open to the public.

However, experts from IPHES and the regional Catalan Culture Ministry are working to record the ancient images.  They are using 3D scanning equipment to record the prehistoric art, and this will enable them to be studied without them being put at risk. It is hoped that the 3D scans, which will be in high resolution, will one day be made available to the public and allow for the sanctuary to be digitally recreated. Visitors will hopefully have an opportunity “to view a projection of the sanctuary in 3D,” according to the Catalan News.

The Catalan government has announced that the cave will be declared a cultural asset, which means that it will be protected by law.

Spain is home to some of the world’s most important examples of prehistoric rock art and engravings, such as those at Altamira and El Castillo, which have some of the earliest known. Indeed, the country is home to the greatest number of documented rock art sites in the world.

Turtle fossil the size of a car unearthed shows signs of ancient croc battle

Turtle fossil the size of a car unearthed shows signs of ancient croc battle

Turtle fossil the size of a car unearthed, shows signs of ancient croc battle Fossils of a turtle the size of a car have been unearthed in what is now northern South America.

The turtle – Stupendemys geographicus – is believed to have roamed the region between 13 and 7 million years ago. The fossils were found in Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert and Venezuela’s Urumaco region.

Researchers say they’ve unearthed several fossils from Stupendemys geographicus, a massive freshwater turtle that grew up to four metres (13 feet) long and weighed more than one metric tonne.

The fossilized remains include the largest shell ever recovered and the first piece ever found from the turtle’s lower jaw, according to a paper published in the journal Science Advances.

“Stupendemys geographicus was huge and heavy. The largest individuals of this species were about the size and length of a sedan automobile if we take into account the head, neck, shell, and limbs,” said Edwin Cadena, a paleontologist and lead author of the study.

Venezuelan paleontologist Rodolfo Sánchez is shown with the fossilized shell of Stupendemys geographicus.

The fossils also reveal that males of the species had large horns built into the front of their shells, which are thought to have been used for fighting with other males and fending off larger foes. Females did not have those same horns, according to Marcelo Sanchez, a paleobiologist who led the project at the University of Zurich’s Paleontological Institute and Museum.

“The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed — males with horned shells and females with hornless shells,” Sanchez said in a news release from the university.

Modern male turtles have also been known to fight with one another, although they lack the shell-mounted weapons of their ancestors.

The stupendous turtle was massive by modern standards, but not when compared to some of the gigantic crocodile ancestors that occupied the same prehistoric swamps of its era. Among those prehistoric predators was the caiman Purussaurus, which measured 11 metres (36 feet) long, and the slightly smaller Gryposuchus, which was 10 metres (33 feet) long.

Fossil evidence shows the turtles definitely tangled with crocodilian predators from time to time, as one of the battle-scarred male shells had a five-centimetre (two-inch) tooth embedded in it.

Paleontologists at work in Venezuela’s Urumaco region

The new fossils were found in the Tatacoa desert of Colombia and the Urumaco region of Venezuela. The specimens include the largest-ever recovered shell fossil, which measures 2.86 meters (9.4 feet) long.

Paleontologists have known about the turtle’s existence since the 1970s, but they haven’t found enough specimens yet to build a full profile of its behaviours.

The newly recovered jaw pieces are expected to shed some light on what the turtle ate, Cadena said.

“Its diet was diverse including small animals — fishes, caimans, snakes — as well as mollusks and vegetation, particularly fruits and seeds,” he told Reuters. “Putting together all the anatomical features of this species indicates that its lifestyle was mostly in the bottom of large freshwater bodies including lakes and rivers.”

Only one turtle in history was thought to be larger: the Archelon, an ocean-dwelling behemoth that measured 4.6 meters (15 feet) long and lived nearly 70 million years ago. Paleontologists don’t know if these turtles were biters — but with their car-sized bodies, one probably wouldn’t want to find out.

40,000-Year-Old Tree Shows What Happened During Earth’s Last Magnetic Pole Reversal

40,000-Year-Old Tree Shows What Happened During Earth’s Last Magnetic Pole Reversal

Trees are living memorial statues, and we can learn a lot from their rings. A tree can tell you if the winter was wet or if the area was affected by hurricanes or fires.

One particular tree attracted the attention of everyone. It was found in Ngawha, on New Zealand’s North Island. According to experts, the tree had a record of a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field. It’s actually an Agathisaustralis, also known as “kauri.”

The tree was found during excavation work for the expansion of a geothermal power plant.

Ngāwhā Generation is a subsidiary of Top Energy. They gave the kauri tree back to iwi. Of course, they agreed to take samples and study the segments.

The tree was buried 26 deep into the soil. It has eight feet in diameter and 65 feet in length. According to its carbon dating, the tree lived for 1,500 years. The giant thrived between 41,000 and 42,500 years ago.

Alan Hogg, from New Zealand’s University of Waikato, notes that they have never seen anything like this. According to him, the Ngāwhā kauri is unique. The tree lived when the magnetic field almost reversed. The magnetic north and south went off but didn’t complete a full reversal.

Experts note that Earth’s magnetic field is generated by the iron in the core. It produces electric currents that go far into space. The field acts as a barrier that protects Earth from the solar wind. It’s actually a stream of charged particles from the Sun that may remove the ozone layer in case it affects the atmosphere.

When reversed, the magnetic field weakens and caused higher radiation from the Sun going through. Extinction events in the past are often linked to these magnetic field reversals.

The rings of this tree have a full record of a near-reversal. It’s the first tree that lived during the entire event and was eventually found.

Hogg said, “It’s the time it takes for this movement to occur that is the critical thing…We will map these changes much more accurately using the tree rings.”

In the past 83 million years, 183 magnetic pole reversals took place.

The kauri tree revealed during the expansion of the Ngāwhā Generation geothermal power plant.  Chris Turney from the University of New South Wales led the analysis of the tree. He is an expert in paleoclimatology and climate change. His research is funded by the Australia Research Council.

He said, “The precious thing is this huge, lonely tree grew for some 1700 years across a remarkable period in our planet’s history when the Earth’s magnetic field flipped some 42,000 years ago, a period known as the Laschamp Excursion. Funded by the Australian Research Council we’re undertaking detailed measurements of the radioactive form of carbon through the tree rings.”

Each process is completed in 7,000 years. Monika Korte, the scientific director of the Niemegk Geomagnetic Observatory at GFZ Potsdam in Germany explains that it’s a slow process in which the field strength weakens, and the field becomes more complex. It shows more than two poles for a while, and then becomes stronger and aligned in the opposite direction.

NASA explains that magnetic field reversals happen at random intervals. The reversals developed a pattern in the last 20 million years. One reversal happens once every 200,000 to 300,000 years. The last one took place around 780,000 years ago.

Scientists didn’t expect the magnetic north pole to move, but it did recently. They updated the World Magnetic Model which represents our planet’s magnetic field. The WMM is used by the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.K. Ministry of Defense and many civilian systems.

“Because the Earth’s magnetic field has a major effect on how much radiocarbon is formed in the upper atmosphere, these precious analyses will allow us to investigate the magnitude and rate of change when the magnetic field reversed during the Laschamp; something not possible before and of great interest given recent changes in the Earth’s magnetic field,” Turner explained.

Walls of Jericho, Jericho, West Bank, Palestinian Territories, Middle East, Asia

The Oldest Defensive Wall on Earth Predates Egypt’s Oldest Pyramid by 5,300 Years

The Egyptian pyramids at Giza are remembered every time we speak of the pyramids. Although there are about 120 pyramids in Egypt, the most prominent temples in Giza are intimidating.

The Great Pyramid of Giza where it stood, accompanied by a nearly identical, albeit smaller pyramid, thought to have been built by Khufu’s successor Khafre. The smallest of the three pyramids at Giza is that of Menkaure, and it marked the end of pyramid-building at Giza.

While these are the most imposing and the most famous pyramids in Egypt, they are definitely not the oldest. It was believed that during the Third Dynasty reign of Pharaoh Djoser, the first Pyramid in Egypt was constructed around 4,700 years ago.

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara–the first colossal stone building in Egypt–was a monument that redefined architecture in Egypt. Not only is it the earliest callosal stone building in the history of Egypt, but it is also regarded as the earliest large-scale cut stone construction in the history of ancient Egypt.

With a total volume of 330,400 cubic meters (11,667,966 cu ft), rising to a height of more than 63 meters, the Step Pyramid was an unprecedented structure. The monument itself and the pyramid complex as a whole was of unseen scale. In fact, experts believe that such was the size of Djoser’s ancient wonder that it covered 15 ha (37 acres), which is around 2.5 times as large as the Old Kingdom town of Heirakonpolis.

The successful completion of the massive pyramid complex at Giza testifies that around 4,700 years ago, the people of ancient Egypt were capable of undertaking bewildering constructions.

A view of the Giza Pyramid Complex with the city of Giza in the background

As noted by Mark Lehner, the social implications of completing such a large and carefully sculpted stone structure are beyond staggering. In fact, the pyramid of Djoser testifies to the fact that already in 2,700 BC, ancient Egypt was a well-developed country, and the royal government had a new level of control of resources, both material and human.

Although the Step Pyramid of Djoser was a revolutionary undertaking in Egyptian architecture, and future pyramids that followed the footsteps of Djoser became some of the most impressive the world has ever seen, what happened before Djoser? What happened before the third dynasty of Egypt in other parts of the world?

Did the very first, megalithic stone-cut buildings appear in Egypt? Or, did other cultures develop similar, if not greater structures prior to Egypt’s Third Dynasty?

As it turns out, thousands of years before the Third Dynasty, when Egypt’s first pyramid was built, people were already creating mind-boggling stone-cut constructions.

The oldest temple on Earth is evidence of that.

Built between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, the megalithic stones at Göbekli Tepe in present-day Turkey are evidence that dating back nearly to the last ice age, people on Earth had the ability to create ingenious and mind-boggling structures. Göbekli Tepe features some of the most impressive and oldest structures on Earth. Somehow, by means we have still not fully understood, ancient people at Göbekli Tepe managed to quarry, transport and erect massive blocks of stone weighing several tons.

The megalithic T-Shaped Pillars of Göbekli Tepe, an ancient site that predates the pyramids of Egypt by at least 8,500 years.

These standing stones would eventually make up what is now considered the oldest megalithic temple on the surface of the planet, bearing evidence that more than 10,000 years ago, people had the ability to build megalithic structures.

Göbekli Tepe is so ancient that it was abandoned in 8,000 BC. This means that the builders of the intricate temple built it and abandoned it before the pyramids of Egypt were even conceived. Not many people are fully aware of the complexity and scale of Göbekli Tepe and what it means in the history of mankind. So far, more than 200, massive pillars have been found in around 20 circles. Each of the pillars has a height of around six meters and has a weight of around ten tons. Although Göbekli Tepe is perhaps one of the most impressive architectural feats of mankind, there are numerous equally stumping structures spread across the planet.

Located in the city of Jericho in the West Bank, we find another bewildering structure, a wall that is arguably the oldest defensive wall discovered by archeologists anywhere in the world. It was built of undressed stones and is located at an archaeological mound referred to as Tell es-Sultan.

Archaeological surveys indicate the wall is a Pre-Pottery Neolithic defensive or flood protection wall and dates to around 8,000 BC. This means that some 10,000 years ago, ancient mankind built complex defensive structures using massive blocks of stone. The Neolithic wall was part of a greater defensive structure. Experts have revealed it was complemented by a stone tower built into it.

A map of the ancient city of Jericho.

Through surveys of the site, scholars believe that the wall was built in order to prevent floods and the tower was most likely used for ceremonial purposes. However, given the large dimensions of the wall (around 1.5 to 2 meters (4.9 to 6.6 ft) thick and 3.7 to 5.2 meters (12 to 17 ft) high, and the tower measuring around 8.5 meters (28 ft), researchers propose the wall and its adjacent structures served a defensive purpose as well.

Constructing something of that size around 10,00 years ago was not an easy task, and it is suggested that social organization, labor division, and classes were already clear at that time.

Surrounding the wall, the ancient builders created a ditch 8.2 meters (27 ft) wide by 2.7 meters (9 ft) deep. Surveys have shown that the ditch was actually cut through solid bedrock with a circumference around the town of as much as 600 meters (2,000 ft). This further adds to the complexity of the construction.

“The labor involved in excavating this ditch out of solid rock must have been tremendous. As we have discovered nothing in the way of heavy flint picks, one can only suppose that it was carried out with stone mauls, perhaps helped by splitting with fire and water,” explained archaeologists Kathleen Kenyon.

Historically the Wall of Jericho is of great importance. For example, the Book of Joshua deals with Jericho during the Late Bronze Age, at around 1400 BC, which is approximately 6,400 years after the Neolithic “Wall of Jericho” fell out of use.

The ancient city of Jericho is one of the oldest on Earth. So far, archaeological excavations have revealed more than 20 successive settlements at Jericho. The first settlement at the site is believed to have ebene created around 9,000 BC, which means it dates back at least 11,000 years, which is nearly at the very start of the Holocene epoch.

The evidence further supports the notion that settlements existed in the area as early as 10,000 BC, during the Younger Dryas period. By the time the Younger Dryas was coming to an end, the area was inhabited around the year.

Researchers Will Search for Spanish Treasure Ship

Researchers Will Search for Spanish Treasure Ship

Nearly 400 years after storms sent one of Spain’s greatest treasure galleons on to the sea outside Mexico, archaeologists from the two countries are to renew their search for the ship and its precious cargo of gold, silver, and jewels.

According to the storm hit, the omens for the Nuestra Señora del Juncal’s return voyage in October 1631 were decidedly ill. A day before the fleet of which it was a part set sail from Mexico, its commander died. The ships pressed on even though the Juncal was in a poor state of repair and taking on water.

It is hoped the project will be a training ground for young underwater archaeologists.

After weathering a fortnight’s storms, cutting the main mast and tossing cannons and other heavy objects overboard in a desperate attempt to lighten the ship, the crew could do no more. Of the 300 people on board, 39 survived by climbing into a small launch.

In May, underwater archaeologists from Spain and Mexico will begin a 10-day search for the Juncal. It is hoped that the work will be just the beginning of a two-decade-long scientific and cultural collaboration.

The joint project, which comes six years after Spain and Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding over their shared underwater cultural heritage, aims not only to locate and protect the Juncal but also to train a new generation of Latin American underwater archaeologists.

Dr. Iván Negueruela, the director of Spain’s National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, has been working closely with Roberto Junco, the deputy director of underwater archaeology at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. Negueruela said the team had done its calculations and the chances of finding the ship were looking very promising.

“Because the cargo was so valuable – it was carrying lots of ingots – the authorities had a detailed inventory,” he said. “The survivors were also questioned in-depth and their statements help us to reconstruct what happened with quite a high degree of accuracy, so we have a fairly good idea of where the ship sank.”

The Juncal is thought to have been carrying between 120 and 150 tonnes of precious materials, dwarfing the 14 tonnes of cargo recovered from another Spanish wreck, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, in 2007.

Negueruela said the Juncal was transporting riches beyond silver and gold from the New World, among them cacao, dyes and animal hides. Anything organic is unlikely to have survived four centuries of sitting in saltwater, however.

The priority from an archaeological point of view is securing the site and carrying out a methodical, exhaustive and transparent excavation. “When you have a cargo of such extraordinary riches, you’ve got to be totally transparent about what you’re doing, whether you bring up two tonnes of silver or a single silver spoon,” said Negueruela.

“We also want this to serve as a training ground for young underwater archaeologists from Latin America so that countries don’t find themselves at the mercy of pirates and treasure-hunting companies. There will be grants to allow two or three young archaeologists to come out with us each year to train.”

The idea is that within eight or 10 years there will be a group of young, well-trained archaeologists in each country where they’re needed.

“We older archaeologists are running out of time and we need to train up young archaeologists so that we can leave the seabed in good hands,” said Negueruela.

For him, the Juncal’s true riches are not its cargo but the vessel itself – and the chance, for once, to get to a wreck before the treasure hunters do.

“I’m really keen to discover exactly how the ship was constructed and to see how the bulkheads and the decks were put together,” he said.

“We’ve seen that with Mary Rose and the Vasa in Sweden. I want to know exactly how a galleon looked in the first half of the 17th century, and that’s fundamental: where were the sleeping quarters, the stores, the latrines, the eating areas. We know about them from drawings from the archives from the 16th to 18th centuries but we’ve never excavated them. This is such a rich source of information.”