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A bonanza of artifacts from the 17th-century Spanish treasure galleon Concepción, recently discovered off the Dominican Republic, is now on display in Boston and will be exposed to ogling landlubbers in cities across the U.S. in the next 11 months. The pieces in this exhibit—1,000 coins and 250 sundry objects of beauty and utility—have been valued at $1.5 million, and the find's total worth has been placed at some $40 million (though the dollar figures fluctuate hourly on the gold and silver market). The traveling collection is culled from Santo Domingo's 51 percent share of the treasure. The salvagers—adventurer Burt Webber and his group, Sea Quest International—retain the other 49 percent.
By the time the bounty-laden ship Nuestra Señora de la Puray Limpia Concepóidn (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) was wrecked on a reef near Santo Domingo in 1641, Spain had been plundering the New World for 150 years—ever since Columbus' landfall in 1492. The royal treasury was surfeited, and the Concepóidn's store was left to languish. An enterprising English expedition plundered some 68,000 troy pounds of silver from the vessel in 1687, but not until two years ago was the ship rediscovered and the rest retrieved (PEOPLE, March 5, 1979).
The artifacts on display give a vivid picture of life on a 17th-century commercial galleon: There are kitchen tools, silver place settings, chamber pots, washbasins, rosary beads, perfume vials and the bones of livestock stowed aboard. There are also strictly esthetic attractions, including several Chinese porcelain vases and Ming teacups that were being transshipped from Manila via Mexico. A sounding lead for gauging shallow depths and two astrolabes—precursors of the sextant, used to determine latitude by sighting heavenly bodies—poignantly illustrate the fatal primitiveness of the Concepóidn's navigation, and one of the many talismans aboard the ship lends the exhibit an affecting note of pathos: an amulet of black stone used to ward off evil spirits.
The show will be at Boston's New England Aquarium until this spring, when it moves on to the Hershey (Pa.) Museum of American Life, the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa and, early next year, the Health and Science Museum in Dallas.