A bronze cannon from the late 16th century that was looted from the seabed of Galicia, northwestern Spain, has been recovered by the Guardia Civil. The cannon was one of three discovered on April 14th by shellfish fishermen looking for goose-barnacles. Two of them were recovered the next day, but the third was gone, looted on the same day of their discovery.
The investigation into the theft uncovered a video recording the cannon in the act of being plundered with a hook and ropes. A number of suspects were interrogated based on the information in the video. Authorities found the cannon in the home of one of the suspects. Five men and two women are currently being investigated for crimes against cultural heritage.
“We reckon one of those being investigated decided to plunder the cannon on a whim because they thought it would make a nice decorative piece,” the Guardia Civil said in a statement. “But beyond any value it might have if you melted it down, it is an important piece because of the valuable historical and archaeological information it contains – information that gets lost if you remove it from its context and the place where it was found.”
Regional archaeologists believe it belonged to one of the ships of the 2nd Spanish Armada sent by Philip II to invade Ireland and England in 1596. This armada never even made it out of Spanish waters. It was struck with powerful storms off Cape Finisterre in Galicia. The fleet was utterly incapacitated: 43 ships lost, almost 5,000 dead from drowning during the storm or from the disease that ran rampant through the crew on the ships that managed to limp into ports. The disaster ended Spain’s attempts to open a second front against England by supporting the Irish rebels, and was such a huge financial hit to the crown that Philip had to declare bankruptcy. (Again.)
The cannon has been transported to the Museum of the Sea of Vigo where it will it be studied and conserved along with its two brethren. After more than four centuries under salty sea water, the metal will need a sustained program of desalination in order the stabilize the piece and keep it from rapid deterioration now that it is exposed to air.