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TREASURE

‘Stolen’ treasure trove goes on show in Spain

Thousands of gold and silver coins pulled from a 19th-century shipwreck went on show in a Spanish museum on Thursday after Spain won them from US treasure hunters in a court battle.

'Stolen' treasure trove goes on show in Spain
The collection features 8,000 coins - just a fraction of the estimated 580,000 found in the wreck - plus other precious artefacts. Photo: Pierre Philippe Marcou/AFP

The cargo from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes warship came to Spain in 2012 after a five-year legal battle with Odyssey, the US company that hauled it up two centuries after it sank.

Officials on Thursday inaugurated a new exhibition at the Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology in the southeastern Spanish city of Cartagena.

It features 8,000 coins – just a fraction of the estimated 580,000 found in the wreck – plus other precious artefacts.

"It is an extraordinary collection," said Spain's junior culture minister Jose Maria Lasalle at the inauguration.

"These cultural assets are the heritage of everyone, not the privilege of a few."

British warships sank the Spanish naval vessel in 1804 off the coast of Portugal as it returned from Peru, part of the Spanish empire at the time.

Odyssey Marine Exploration found it in May 2007 at a depth of 1,700 feet (518 meters) in the Atlantic.

Spanish authorities said at the time that the trove was worth at least €350 million ($476 million) overall.

The museum said in a statement that another 30,000 of the coins would later go on display at Madrid's National Archaeological Museum and a further lot in the Madrid Naval Museum.

Against conflicting claims by Odyssey, Peru and descendants of the treasure's original owners, a judge in Florida ruled in March 2012 that the trove belonged to Spain.

The US Supreme Court turned down a final appeal by Odyssey in May 2012.

"The recovery of the goods plundered from the archaeological site is an unprecedented international success in the fight to conserve underwater cultural heritage and the fight against illegal trafficking," Lasalle said.

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SCIENCE

Was Columbus actually Spanish? A new DNA study aims to discover explorer’s true origins

Researchers are restarting a DNA study of the remains of Christopher Columbus to try to settle the question of where the explorer came from.

Was Columbus actually Spanish? A new DNA study aims to discover explorer's true origins
Photo: A portrait of Christopher Columbus by Italian painter Domenico Bigordi

Was Columbus from the Italian port city of Genoa, as most historians believe? Or was he Spanish or Portuguese? There are several theories.

Five centuries after his death in 1506, this study could finally end the debate over the geographic origin of the navigator whose voyages on behalf of the Spanish monarchs between 1492 and 1504 opened the door to Europe’s colonisation of the Americas.

The results of this “pioneering study” are expected in October, Jose Antonio Lorente, a professor of forensic medicine at Granada who is leading the investigation, told a news conference.

Launched in 2003, the study achieved a major breakthrough after DNA tests established that bones in a tomb in the cathedral in the southern city of Seville were those of Columbus.

But it was suspended in 2005 because the research team felt that DNA technology at the time required a significant sample of the bones of the explorer “to obtain very little information”, said Lorente.

The research team decided to preserve the bones “until there was better technology” which can use small bone fragments as is the case today, he added.

The DNA of small bone fragments from Columbus which are stored at a vault at Granada University in southern Spain will be compared to those from the remains of suspected family members of the explorer.

Columbus in the court of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs. Artist: Juan Cordero, 1850 (Wikipedia)

It will also be compared with the DNA of people alive with the same family name as Columbus from the different parts of the world where he is believed to have come from.

While Lorente hopes the results will be “totally conclusive”, he acknowledged researchers were not certain they could obtain genetic samples from all the bones “in sufficient quantity and quality¬† to reach a conclusion”.

“The goal is to try to offer as much information as possible for historians and experts to interpret,” he added.

The study is being carried out with the University of Florence in Italy and the University of North Texas in the United States.

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