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Encrusted Conglomeration Yields Artifacts Of Wealth And War: Pieces Of Eight And 'Gunner's Dice'

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KEY WEST, Florida -- The five pound encrusted conglomeration of Santa Margarita shipwreck artifacts discovered in the Florida Straits in May by W. Keith Webb's Blue Water Ventures, though still in conservation, has thus far yielded two prime examples of 17th century Spanish presence in the America's—money and weaponry.

The money appears in the form of seven silver "pieces of eight" treasure coins; the weaponry are ten "gunner's dice." John Corcoran, chief conservator for Mel Fisher's Treasures—Blue Water's joint venture partner—explained that gunner's dice are approximately 1"x1" bits of square-cut iron that were wrapped into a bundle—sometimes mixed with pieces of broken spike—and fired from cannon.

One never knows what might be discovered in a conglomeration of shipwreck material. Even though gold does not typically become encrusted in sea water, it can if it is near another metal such as iron, so a conglomeration can include a variety of artifacts, such as hull spikes, weaponry, silver and gold coins, chains and jewelry.

The near-mint condition, Mexico City minted silver "piece of eight" coin in the accompanying photograph is from the conglomeration discovered in May by BWV diver Kris Goodner and represents one of about 80,000 coins still to be discovered on the sunken 1622 Tierra Firme Fleet galleon Santa Margarita. Mexico Mint coins are particularly rare on the Santa Margarita as they were actually part of the cargo of an altogether different fleet, the New Spain Fleet—whose admiral made the unfortunate decision to transfer valuable coin cargo from his fleet to the better-armed, but doomed, Tierra Firme fleet ships to carry.

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