Autonomous vehicle used in discovery of the 'holy grail of shipwrecks' 

The "holy grail of shipwrecks" was found off the coast of Colombia and an autonomous vehicle is being hailed as one of the heroes in the discovery effort. 

Governments and treasure hunters alike have long been searching for the San José, a Spanish ship that was downed by British forces in the War of the Spanish Succession. 

When it sank in 1708, it took an estimated $17 billion in cargo with it, including gold, silver, and emeralds.

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Shipwreck discoveries made throughout history
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Shipwreck discoveries made throughout history
The bust of a statue (C) acheologists identify as Roman Emperor Philip the Arab, who ruled from 224 to 249 AD, is seen on underwater off the Mediterranean island of Corsica in this recent undated photo. Archeologists announced November 19, 2004 that a 2-metre statue of a feminine silhouette and statue fragments of the roman emperor were discovered October 23, 2004 in in shipwreck dating from the third century off Porticcio in southern Corsica. EDITORIAL USE ONLY HO/Stringer JS/DL
Amphoras, which might have once carried wine, oil or fish sauce, lie on the Mediterranean bottom, some 2,000 years after they went down with a trading ship. The ship is one of the few and one of the earliest from ancient Roman times ever found. An expedition funded partly by the National Geographic Society found eight shipwrecks and brought up more than 100 artifacts to aid identification of the wrecks.The announcemen of the discovery was made at the National Geographic Society July 30. USA-SHIPWRECKS
A pot for general household use, more than 2,000 years old, is one of many artifacts recovered from the wreck of an ancient trading ship lying 2,500 feet down in the Mediterranean. Artifacts retrieved from eight ships were well preserved in the still waters of this previously unexplored depth. The announcement of the discovery of the cluster of shipwrecks was made at the National Geographic Society July 30. USA SHIPWRECKS
The bust of a statue acheologists identify as Roman Emperor Philip the Arab, who ruled from 224 to 249 AD, is seen on a beach on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in this recent undated photo. Archeologists announced November 19, 2004 that a 2-metre statue of a feminine silhouette and statue fragments of the roman emperor were discovered October 23, 2004 in in shipwreck dating from the third century off Porticcio in southern Corsica. EDITORIAL USE ONLY HO/Stringer JS/
Treasure hunters are back in the seas of the Spanish Americas following the discovery of several Spanish Conquest-era shipwrecks off Panama's Pacific and Caribbean coasts. More than 30 galleons laden with treasure worth hundreds of millions of dollars are scattered along Panama's seabeds, according to Panama's National Culture Institute. A coral-encrusted canon dating from 1620 recently recovered from a Spanish Conquest-era shipwreck off Panama's Pacific Coast goes on display in Panama's National Cultural Institute in Panama City May 29, 2002. Panama's de-facto Culture Minister Rafael Ruiloba told Reuters in an interview more than 30 colonial-era shipwrecks REUTERS/Alberto Lowe PANAMA-SHIPWRECKS AL/SV/MMR
(GERMANY OUT) Diver discover armed Munition from II World War at Japanese Warship Helmet Wreck, Micronesia, Palau (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) A majolica pottery ewer recovered from a sunken battleship from the Spanish Armada discovered off the coast of north-west Scotland. The pottery has survived since the ship was wrecked in 1588. (Photo by Colin McPherson/Sygma via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Debris is removed from a piece of Majolica earthenware recovered from a sunken battleship from the Spanish Armada discovered off the coast of north-west Scotland which was wrecked in 1588. (Photo by Colin McPherson/Sygma via Getty Images)
MATAGORDA BAY, TX - OCTOBER 30: Salvage workers excavate 29 October the 310-year-old shipwreck of the La Belle, the oldest French shipwreck ever discovered in the Americas. French explorer La Salle sailed the boat into the bay on a mission to find the mouth of the Mississippi River but missed his mark by 400 miles. AFP PHOTO by Robert STANTON (Photo credit should read Robert STANTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A gold octagonal cup is seen on display at the Asian Civilisation Museum during a preview of items recovered from a Tang-era shipwreck in Singapore on November 9, 2015. The shipwreck, discovered in 1998 off Belitung island in the Java sea, carried a cargo of more than 60,000 ceramics from China during the Tang dynasty, including gold and silver objects. AFP PHOTO / ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Ceramic bowls are displayed at the Asian Civilisation Museum during a preview of items recovered from a Tang-era shipwreck in Singapore on November 9, 2015. The shipwreck, discovered in 1998 off Belitung island in the Java sea, carried a cargo of more than 60,000 ceramics from China during the Tang dynasty, including gold and silver objects. AFP PHOTO / ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
INDONESIA - OCTOBER 13: A ceramic bowl inscribed with Chinese characters from a 10th-century shipwreck is displayed at a warehouse in Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia, on Friday, October 13, 2006. Indonesia is putting as many as 250,000 treasures up for auction, salvaged from a 10th-century shipwreck off the island of Java. (Photo by Edy Purnomo/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
INDONESIA - OCTOBER 13: Ceramic items from a 10th-century shipwreck are displayed at a warehouse in Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia, on Friday, October 13, 2006. Indonesia is putting as many as 250,000 treasures up for auction, salvaged from a 10th-century shipwreck off the island of Java. (Photo by Edy Purnomo/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
TO GO WITH INDONESIA-ARCHAEOLOGY-CHINA-BELGIUM, FEATURE BY STEPHEN COATES An Indonesian personnel holds a 10th century Chinese bronze mirror plate from the Five Dynasties (907-960) at a showroom in south Jakarta on April 28, 2010 The items are part of ancient treasure trove salvaged from a 1,000-year-old shipwreck found by Indonesian fishermen in the northern waters of Cirebon, West Java, is set to go under the hammer on May 5, 2010 with a minimum price of 80 million US dollars. Belgian treasure-hunter Luc Heymans said the haul was one of the biggest found in Asia and was comparable to the most valuable shipwreck ever found anywhere, that of the Atocha, a Spanish vessel which sank off Florida in 1622. It includes 271,000 pieces such as rubies, pearls, gold jewellery, Fatimid rock-crystal, Iranian glassware and exquisite Chinese imperial porcelain dating back to the end of the first millennium, or around 976 AD. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
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In late 2015 and with the help of the REMUS 6000, an autonomous underwater vehicle provided and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the San José was discovered nearly 2,000 feet deep in the waters off Cartagena. 

Sonar signals detected by the search vehicle were among the early indications of the wreckage location. 

"To confirm the wreck’s identity, REMUS descended to just 30 feet above the wreck where it was able to capture photos of a key distinguishing feature of the San José—its cannons," according to a release by WHOI. "Subsequent missions at lower altitudes showed engraved dolphins on the unique bronze cannons.” 

The statement further notes that “WHOI recently obtained authorization by Maritime Archaeology Consultants (MAC), Switzerland AG, and the Colombian government to release new details from the successful search for the three-century old San José.”

The Colombian government plans to build a museum for the display of the ship’s artifacts.

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