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Possible first artifact discovered from Spanish shipwreck near Tokyo

Nov. 15, 2017

A group of international scientists could be closer to solving a 400 year old mystery. They are searching for a Spanish shipwreck near Tokyo. And there could be millions of dollars' worth of treasure inside. An NHK crew was with the team as they found what could be the first artifact from the ship.

Searching for a centuries-old shipwreck is an enormous task. Treasure hunters have tried and failed to find the wreck in the past. But researchers on this academic expedition say they're hopeful. "We hope to recover something that could shed light on the shipwreck, however little it may be," says Jun Kimura of Tokai University's School of Marine Science and Technology.

There are marine archeologists on the team from Japan, the US and Australia. They are searching for a Spanish ship called the San Francisco. It ran aground and sank south of Tokyo in 1609. Researchers hope the shipwreck could provide insight into historic trade routes. But the search is tough. The sea bottom in the area has many rocks and sandy surfaces.

Exhibits at a local museum give a sense of what the San Francisco might have looked like. The ship was one of many Spanish galleons sailing in the Pacific Ocean at the time. They were the cornerstone to Spain's prosperity. A painting shows how local fishermen helped rescue most of the nearly 400 people on board after the accident. The Spanish King gave a clock to the Japanese Shogun as a token of gratitude.

Underwater, the search continues. An Australian scientist has found something -- a possible clue. It's a round stone weighing almost 3 kilograms. The researchers wonder if it might be a cannonball. "They found cannon balls from another sunken Spanish ship near the Philippines. This could be a similar type of cannonball," says Kimura.

If it is, the researchers say they could be closer to finding the San Francisco. "During our search, we believe we detected iron. It could be from modern times, but we want to keep searching in this area," says Kimura. The team may not have found the ship just yet, but it says it will learn what it can from the day's find. It plans to keep searching until the end of March 2019.