The Atocha-new revelations about early Gem Trading

The Emeralds recovered from the shipwreck: Nuestra Señora de Atocha, by Mel Fisher of Key West, Florida, recently played a critical role in determining the origins for many of the world's renowned jewels. French and Colombian geologists collaborated to scientifically discover the source of Emeralds.

They determined that levels of oxygen isotopes within the crystals were accurate source-point indicators, often linking the gem to an individual mine. In bombarding the Emerald with an ion beam of cesium, they were able to collect and analyze the dislodged oxygen ions, assigning them unique and specific values. The researchers examined Emeralds from collections around the world, and re-evaluated their supposed origins. Utilizing an Atocha Emerald as the test subject, it was confirmed that the stone had a Colombian origin. These findings were made public in the journal: Science-January 28, 2000 issue.

The above described analysis changed a long accepted theory-that all gem quality Emeralds in the ancient world came from either Austria, or Egypt. It was discovered that some gems originated in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The big surprise was that most Emeralds believed "ancient", were actually mined in Colombia, and shipped to the Old World by the Spanish fleets during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Spanish discovered Colombian Emeralds in 1536, during their conquest of South America, and immediately, they became highly prized. The mines worked by the indigenous people quickly came under Spanish authority, adding to a wide variety of New World treasures controlled by Spain. Emeralds from this region of Colombia, have long been considered the finest in the world. Emeralds brought up from the Atocha give strong archaeological evidence supporting this early trade. So far, about 6,000 uncut, "raw" Colombian gems have been recovered from the Atocha. Had the fabulously rich cargo of the Atocha reached her destination, these Emeralds could have spread across Europe and Asia, and the true location of where they were mined would have remained in doubt?