After you finagle your body into a skin-tight wet suit, check your oxygen gauges, and snap tight those goggles, you’re ready for an aquatic journey into the deep blue abyss. Besides swimming alongside exotic marine life, depending on where you dive, you just might come across a piece of forgotten history.
Treasure hunters Kevin Dykstra and Frederick Monroe thoroughly researched every diving site to ensure the environment was safe and worth the time and money. However, on one particular venture, the Michigan men suddenly realized what they initially set out for didn’t hold a candle to what they ran into.
Before embarking on their upcoming venture, Dykstra and Monroe met with their closest friends and advisors in the treasure hunting community. While they were after quite a valuable find in 2015, there was one lost treasure that they often dreamed about.
In 1679, the French constructed a mammoth of a ship called Le Griffon. The best materials were used and the craftsmanship was superior to other vessels at the time. Plus, the captain was full of vigor and enthusiasm.
His name was René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (yes, believe it or not, all of that was his name). The overly confident captain bragged to everyone that his crew would achieve their quest, difficult as it was.
La Salle aimed to sail through the Great Lakes and locate the mouth of the Mississippi River. Aboard the largest vessel to ever sail the Great Lakes at the time, there was no good reason why his crew couldn’t complete their mission. However, things went awry.
Despite La Salle’s careful preparation, it simply wasn’t enough. None of his men had ventured onto the Great lakes before, and the French explorer ran out of money.
Embarrassed by the monetary blunder, La Salle disembarked the ship and left the remainder of his crew to pay off his outstanding debts using tons of animal pelts they brought along. But, La Salle eventually returned.
Yearning to see Le Griffon again, La Salle made his way back to Lake Michigan. However, members of the Native American Potawatomi tribe told him the ship was destroyed during a brutal storm.
Legends of America
Fast forward a few hundred years. Now, Lake Michigan is a hotspot for beach-goers and those trying to find some relaxation under the sun. But, Dykstra and Monroe theorized it was also the resting place of lost treasure.
Their original plan never involved finding a shipwreck. The Michigan-based treasure hunters heard rumors about an enormous amount of gold hidden somewhere on the bottom of Lake Michigan. Naturally, finding it was easier said than done.
According to a local legend, during the 1800s, a ferry carrying $2 million worth of gold lost the cargo overboard, and now all that loot was nestled somewhere under the lake’s surface.
Rachel Hackett / Flickr
As they cruised around the general area where they thought the cargo dropped, the sonar started going haywire. This was the lost treasure they and and every historian wanted so badly — or maybe just a red herring.
Man + River / YouTube
Down the divers went with an oceanic metal detector in hand to dredge up the forgotten gold. After several minutes of examination, the men feared the sonar led them astray. But, they didn’t give up hope just yet.
They knew something substantial was close; the sonar didn’t just start sounding when any old thing popped up. The divers were confused for a bit, but they finally came across the object that had the sonar sounding.
Suddenly, out of the aquatic abyss and into their view came an enormous ship! The men in no way ventured to the lake bottom to look for a shipwreck, but that’s exactly what they found.
So, this was what caught the sonar’s attention They were slightly disappointed the treasure was nowhere to be found, but who knew what was waiting for them inside the boat? Maybe even more than $2 million!
The men were shocked. “I didn’t go down there with the expectation of seeing a shipwreck — I can tell you that,” said Dykstra. Even more unbelievable, the men believed it was the remnants of the ill-fated Griffon from centuries before!
Upon close inspection, there was a mussel-covered shape that closely resembled a griffin at the front of the sunken vessel. This had the men’s stomachs in excited knots! They may have finally cracked one of history’s mysteries!
Once the explorers sailed back to land and told others of the discovery, the story picked up immediate momentum. Even though the excitement was palpable, other experts weren’t so sure it was time to celebrate just yet.
Dykstra said of others, “They’ve been very diligent to say, ‘This is really interesting; these are some neat pictures. Can we call this the Griffin? Certainly not — not without a lot more information — but these are very compelling.'”
One of the biggest reasons experts doubt the ship is Le Griffon is because La Salle speaks of Lake Michigan’s Beaver Island in a written journal, and the ship Dykstra and Monroe found is nowhere near that area.
It’s going to take many more dives before anyone comes to a conclusion about the Lake Michigan find. It’s amazing to think this discovery was just one of hundreds around the world that shed light on fascinating historical events.
Another discovery came from beneath the calm waters of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. There was a massive secret, one that lay hidden for hundreds of years. But it didn’t stay that way forever.
Flickr / Christian Loader
It is the wreck of the Whydah, a massive ship built to hold 150 men and several hundred tons of cargo. It went missing off the coast of New England in 1717, and many assumed it was lost forever.
However, explorer Barry Clifford discovered the wreck of the Whydah in 1984, and he has been digging up artifacts from the site ever since. His exploits make him one of the greatest treasure hunters of all time.
Wicked Local Yarmouth
Barry has long been on the hunt for a treasure that will make him a legend. He once believed he found the remnants of the Santa Maria from Christopher Columbus’ original 1492 voyage, but tests later determined it was a different vessel.
The Whydah, however, was a monumental find. It was the flagship of one of history’s greatest pirates: Black Sam Bellamy. This captain was known as the ‘Robin Hood of the Sea,’ and for good reason.
For one thing, Bellamy only targeted wealthy merchants and tried to use as little violence as possible. His crew members received equal pay and respect, even those who were Native Americans or former slaves.
In fact, the Whydah was originally the property of slave traders until Bellamy seized it by force and freed the captives aboard.
Valparaiso University, Wikimedia Commons
Most famously, Bellamy pulled off the biggest heists in pirate history. Historians estimate that he plundered the modern equivalent of $120 million throughout his career.
These daring exploits made Bellamy one of the most talked-about pirates of his time. He rose above his criminal origins to become a bona fide folk hero.
Unfortunately, Bellamy didn’t have much time to enjoy his success. A massive storm sank the Whydah, claiming untold amounts of treasure and most of the crew, including Bellamy himself.
Centuries later, Clifford and his colleagues have unearthed countless relics and treasures from the wreck, and they established the Whydah Pirate Museum to share Bellamy’s story.
Even though Clifford’s team has been studying this site for decades, he still felt like they were only scratching the surface. Then, one diving mission in late 2016 changed everything.
The explorers located a large chunk of debris from the Whydah that had many artifacts trapped inside of it. They hauled it up to dry land for a closer look.
It presented a virtual treasure trove, with genuine coins and seafaring equipment jutting through the rough surface. But this motherlode contained one thing the scientists didn’t expect to find… human bones.
They came across a femur just a short distance away from what appeared to be Bellamy’s pistol. Could it be the remains of the late great Captain himself?
Wikimedia Commons / WellCome Images
Clifford knew they needed proof, so he recruited a team of forensic scientists. They extracted DNA from the bone and compared it to that of one of Bellamy’s descendants in the United Kingdom. At last, the results came in…
Flickr / vâniamoreira1
But it was not a match. This bone likely belonged to an anonymous crew member, but certainly not to Captain Bellamy. The elusive Black Sam slipped away from authorities once again.
The bad news sunk Clifford’s theory faster than the Whydah. Nevertheless, the bone gave researchers the chance to learn more about the typical sailor from that era.
Clifford can still take pride in his ongoing excavation of the Whydah. After all, no other famous pirate ship has been studied so closely. Nobody can question his accomplishments or contributions to history.
Besides, the mysteries of the Whydah are still out there in the briny deep, and Bellamy’s final resting place may even surface someday. All it will take is the right person to find it.
The bones in this sunken wreck certainly were a shocking discovery, but the mystery continues. Take the warship, Kronan. It was the crown jewel of Sweden’s naval fleet in 1672. Tragically, it sank just four years later, killing nearly all 800 people on board and becoming permanently lost at sea.
The Kronan was the largest ship ever built for the Swedish navy, and it served as the flagship vessel when it was completed in 1672. It took seven years to construct, and once it was finished, it sailed the seas like a multi-masted beast.
The ship’s luck ran out in 1676. During a maritime battle, the Kronan hit rough waters and capsized while making a sharp turn. The gunpowder on board ignited and that was that.
For three hundred years, the Kronan sat peacefully at the bottom of the ocean and housed all sorts of aquatic life. Would anyone ever discover its whereabouts and gather the artifacts inside?
Amazingly, in 1980, an amateur researcher named Anders Franzen discovered the shipwreck’s location. The Swedish government sponsored yearly archaeological dives to collect any lost artifacts. What was hidden in the ship for so many years?
The divers who went on the expeditions were in awe. It was obvious the ship was used for war. Openings in the vessel’s sides had old rusted cannons protruding out.
After a thorough search of the ship, it was easy to picture what the massive structure looked like sailing the high seas. There were dozens of small rooms for housing the men aboard, and each one was equipped with weaponry.
The divers had special equipment used to help clear the sand and mud that accumulated on all the surface areas. Buried underneath was a trove of ancient treasures…
Whatever the divers recovered from the wreck was going straight into the Kalmar County Museum in Sweden. The museum had an entire Kronan exhibit ready for unveiling once they excavated the items.
The dive teams found an abundance of old rifles and firearms. The weapons revealed fascinating information about seventeenth-century warfare. Information that experts may not have even known.
After the guns were excavated, researchers cleaned off the grime and rust so they looked new. They now sit on display at the Kalmar Museum. But, firearms weren’t the only amazing things found…
They also found objects that spoke more to everyday life in the 1600s, like musical instruments, including violins and trumpets. The people on board the ship needed forms of entertainment, and playing tunes certainly helped pass the time at sea.
One of the expeditions came across this pristine gold ring. Can you believe after three hundred years at the bottom of the ocean the gem inside still has a sparkle to it? This looks like something straight out of a Tiffany’s display case.
When the Kronan sank, it was carrying loads of gold and silver coins, and the divers found an abundance of them among the rubble. It was Sweden’s largest coin discovery ever, with coins minted in Sweden, Egypt, Syria, and even Turkey!
One of the most important things they found was a wooden plaque with the name of the ship scrawled across it. It may not have been worth as much as the gold and silver, but this plaque was an intact part of history, and equally as important as everything else.
The Kalmar County Museum was more than ecstatic to display all of Kronan’s lost treasure. However, they had no idea that the most interesting item was yet to be found…
Just when researchers thought they unearthed nearly everything of importance, one of them came across this black tin jar nestled in the mud – and it was heavy. More gold and silver coins, perhaps?
Twitter / @SarahWardAU
When scientists finally pried open the can, they were overwhelmed by a pungent smell. They stared at the grayish lump of mush and suddenly it hit them. It was some kind of preserved cheese product!
They described the smell like a mix of yeast and Roquefort cheese. During the era when the Kronan was built, cheese was a real status symbol. It separated the rich from the poor. In this case, however, the cheese was well past its prime.
No one intended to add this Kronan cheese to a gourmet cheese plate anytime soon, but just the fact it was still in relatively good condition stunned everyone. Where’s Andrew Zimmern when you need him? He’d probably give this a taste!
The Kronan cheese sits on display at the museum along with the rest of the findings. Since the ship was discovered in 1980, diving teams have already collected over 30,000 artifacts! The Kronan discover proves that sometimes great men find shipwrecks, but other times great shipwrecks find men…