Feedback
Science

Salvagers Tally Up Treasures From Sunken ‘Ship of Gold’

Gold coins, bracelets, buckles and brooches are among the precious treasures retrieved from a 157-year-old shipwreck off the coast of South Carolina.

The "Ship of Gold," known in its sailing days as the SS Central America, was carrying 30,000 pounds (13,600 kilograms) of gold when a hurricane sent it to the watery depths 160 miles (260 kilometers) from the coast of South Carolina on Sept. 12, 1857. In 1988, the shipwreck site was discovered, and recovery efforts pulled large amounts of gold from the bottom. But only about 5 percent of the site was excavated.

For the past several months, a deep-sea exploration company called Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. has been re-excavating the site. Divers first pulled up five gold bars and two gold coins from the wreck in April 2014. Now the recovery ship, the Odyssey Explorer, is benched for repairs — and archaeologists are literally counting the booty. [Gold Rush: Photos of a Real-Life Underwater Treasure Hunt]

Odyssey says its divers and archaeologists have recovered more than 15,500 gold and silver coins and 45 gold bars from the wreck site. They've also found gold jewelry, gold nuggets and snippets of 19th-century life —including glass stemware and perfume bottles, photographic plates, the remains of a music box, clay pipes and chewing tobacco still in its package.

The SS Central America was a wooden-hulled, copper-plated steamship that traveled between New York and San Francisco during the heady days of the California Gold Rush. At the time the ship sank, it was carrying numerous gold ingots and freshly minted $20 Double Eagle coins. So much gold was lost that public confidence in the banks was shattered. The loss contributed to the economic crisis known as the Panic of 1857.

Some of the 571 passengers and crew on board the SS Central America managed to evacuate to other ships during the storm, but 425 died.

Odyssey plans to resume excavations at the site within the next year, after repairs to the Odyssey Explorer are completed. The company is due to receive 80 percent of the recovery proceeds until fees and other negotiated expenses are paid, and 45 percent thereafter.

— Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow LiveScience on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.