#12 - Mel Fisher - The Atocha and the Isabella Emerald

Posted on Thursday, April 26th, 2018 at 7:58 pm by LaLonde

Well, nice vacation. Key West fishing. One thing I did was go to the Mel Fisher Museum, in Key West. Mel has been credited as one of the greatest treasure hunters of all time. At the museum I saw the treasures of the Spanish Galleon - the Atocha or "Nuestra Senora de Atocha" - Our lady of Atocha. All Spanish ships were named after religious names, all Catholic and of women saints.

The ship sank 45 miles west of Key West on September 6th, 1622. It was laden with 24 tons of silver, 180,000 silver coins, 125 gold bars, 1,200 pounds of silverware, 350 chests of indigo, and 140,000 carats of EMERALDS.

Of which Fisher found only 13,000 carats. This is what got me going, the emeralds.

Most of these emeralds came from the Muzo mine in Colombia. Some were cut, set in gold crosses, and rings, but most were still in the rough. There were a number of these stones at the museum and I can assure you they are all of the highest quality. One crystal is 78 carats. I am sure the best emeralds were kept by Fisher and his investors.

So this got me thinking, when did the mining at the Muzo mines begin?

Well all the European countries were famous for going into countries, taking over and because most of these countries had no written history, or it was destroyed, their history began with the conquering nation starting it. So if you go by this the Spanish say the mines began when they got there.

I checked the earlier Spanish explorers and found a Conqueror named Cortez, he was a beauty in 1515. After going up the Yucatan peninsula, over running Aztec forces, murdering a thousand of the highest ranking people in that area, he then set his eyes on the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). Montezuma II emperor of the Aztecs was forewarned that Cortez was coming. So trying to appease Cortez he gathered riches to give him. Among the riches was a 964 carat emerald of Colombian origin.

This predates the Atocha by 100 years.

Now this stone was not found the day before it was given to Cortez. Cortez named the stone the Isabella Emerald. His idea was to give it to Queen Isabella of Spain so that her husband King Charles V would give Cortez men, weapons and ships to conquer the rest of the new world. The king was broke and couldn't, but did name him governor. Cortez gave the emerald to his wife and it stayed in the family for many generations. In 1757 when the descendants of Cortez packed up to move back to Spain the ship caught fire off the cost of Florida and sank. The ship remained lost for over 200 years and was found by Archaeological Discovery Ventures in 1992. The emerald was among the find. The stone was cut in an ancient table cut, oblong, and rectangular shaped. When Cortez wrote to Isabella describing the stone, he described it as "a mystifying powerful emerald crystal so large that it would fill the palm of her hand". The emerald is said to be worth close to 70 million dollars today.

We know that the pre Colombian civilizations go back to at least 1600 BC so it is very hard to know when the first emeralds were mined in that region. I know that they were in the ground hundreds of thousands of years before that.

So there you go, the history begins when the Europeans got there.

Written by Daniel J. LaLonde

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