December 2015 was an extraordinary month for finding lost treasure. A hoard of Viking coins was unearthed near Watlington in Oxfordshire, England, by metal detectorist James Mather. The treasure found was made up of 186 coins and several items of jewellery as well as 15 Ingots. A few days later, the wreck of the Spanish galleon, the San José, one of the most important ships in the Spanish fleet, was found off the coast of Colombia.
Both of them are very significant finds, not only for the monetary value of the discoveries but for their historical implication. However, in the tradition of all great treasure quests their discovery has not been without some controversy.
The Viking treasure contains coins that date from 870 and it is these that have caused the uproar amongst the academics. According to King Alfred the Great’s historians, Ceolwulf II of Mercia was an ‘’unwise king’s thane’’, but the coins appear to show that he and Alfred were ruling as equals. Alfred the Great is revered as the unifier of England and the victor over the invading Vikings. However, it now seems that he didn’t do this alone and England has an unsung hero who has been airbrushed out of history; Ceolwulf II.
The galleon San José was sunk in 1708 by British pirates off the coast of Colombia. The ship carried a cargo of eleven million gold coins and jewellery which are worth today 4.5 billion euros. President José Manuel Santos insisted that the ‘San José’ and anything it contained was the heritage of all Colombians and should be protected. Other people are claiming a stake in the find. The American company Sea Search Armada, who were the company contracted to search for the San José, are claiming that the Colombian government are in breach of contract. Some Spanish people affirm that it should belong to Spain and even the British could demand it as their rightful booty, having sunk the ship.
My Colombian friend summed it up very well.
‘’It should be divided between Spain and Colombia, and each one should take their part. The Spanish should take what’s theirs, the ship and the corpses; and the Colombians should take back their treasure’’.