Mysterious 17th-century ‘cauldron’ may be primitive submarine used to salvage treasure from a sunken galleon


A copper dome recovered from the bottom of the ocean may be the remains of a 17th-century primitive submarine known as a diving bell — one of the world’s first, and the earliest ever found.

The dome was found in 1980 near the 160-foot-deep (50 meters) shipwreck of the Santa Margarita, a Spanish treasure galleon that sank in 1622 in the Florida Straits, about 40 miles (65 km) west of Key West.

The discoverers assumed the circular object was an oversized cooking cauldron, and it’s been housed ever since at the Mel Fisher Museum in Sebastian, Florida.

Maritime archaeologists now think the object was the apex of a 17th century diving bell used in an early attempt to salvage treasure from the wreck. (Image credit: Mel Fisher Museum, Sebastian)

But new research suggests the object may actually be the top of an early diving bell lost during a salvage of the treasure ship a few years after it sank. These primitive submarines were sometimes used by divers in shallow waters; they are often open at the bottom and filled with air.


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