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San José galleon: subject of science, not commerce

Jesús García Calero el

(This is english version of the letter we submitted to leading members of scientific community, asking for support):

Colombia’s discovery of the galleon San Jose has spread around the world. The story’s popularity in the media demonstrates how attractive naval history from the Age of Sail is for general public. An important shipwreck such as this can help us to understand the history of America and Spain, as well as the sailing networks that crisscrossed the Atlantic in these years of war. This particular shipwreck tells a story of how Spain shaped Latin American, but perhaps also how Latin America shaped Spain: it is the story of the birth of our modern world. We should celebrate this discovery as a unique opportunity to tell, with the greatest detail though proper scientific investigation, the San José’s sinking in 1708 and, much more important, the context of the war and struggles of the people in that time. As scientists, communicators, academics and generally members of an open civil society committed to culture, we rejoice for the great meaning of this promising finding.

However we must also express concern because since the announcement by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos there has been speculation about the destiny of the artifacts that have rested for 307 years on the seabed off the coast of Colombia, near Cartagena de Indias. A law passed by Colombian government in 2013 allows commercialization of archaeological artifacts into markets. This benefits collectors, primarly in the US and UK, rather than the people of Colombia or those sharing this heritage. That is not a worthy end for such an important heritage that shaped our modern world.

We plead with the Colombian Government to take responsibility to ensure that the excavation team will not undertake any action that put in danger the archaeological and scientific value of the galleon and the objects that time has preserved for three centuries and keep key details for the understanding of the complex society that produced them. The protection and the benefit through knowledge, enjoyment and tourism to the Colombian people and the rest of humanity must be the goal of this heritage. This is achieved solely through cooperation in accordance with international law. This guidelines prioritize the archaeological study of the site and its careful research and understanding for publications, multimedia productions and, of course, the construction of a meaningful museum, dedicated to all this history.

Breaking apart unity of the galleon and her cargo, dissolving essential parts of this heritage for market value, as the 2013 Colombian Law allows, damages its historical value and the benefit for Colombian people. The scientific community, universities and academic centers worldwide, and billions of people -especially the Latin American- who celebrate this culture in our countries, are watching very close what happens in Colombia these days. They are eager to establish cooperation in the highest international scientific standards. This is available for free and not at a price of taking artifacts out of the country through sales.

Concern will exist at least until we’ll find out whether Colombia is going to take the necessary steps to ensure transparency, in Government reports on means and ends of any agreement with private companies in relation to the galleon. Concerns will exist until cooperation measures, consistent with international law, will transform San José excavation in a scientific achievement that generates culture and wealth for all, avoiding a debacle that keeps wealth in the hands of few.

Here are the list of supporters

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