Discovery Channel's Stolen Gold: Battle for the Black Swan Treasure TV Review

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The Discovery Channel's Stolen Gold: Battle for the Black Swan Treasure premiered on Sunday night, March 4, 2012. The documentary examines Odyssey Marine Exploration's recovery of some 17 tons of silver coins and other artifacts from the floor of the Atla

The Discovery Channel's Stolen Gold: Battle for the Black Swan Treasure is an updated TV special on one of the sea's greatest shipwreck mysteries. At stake is a treasure horde worth more than $500 million with both Odyssey Marine Exploration and the Spanish government claiming ownership.

Stolen Gold: Battle for the Black Swan Treasure Debuts

The Discovery Channel's Stolen Gold: Battle for the Black Swan Treasure debuted on Sunday night, March 4, 2012. This special is actually an updated version of a previous Treasure Quest episode aired on the Discovery Channel on April 2, 2009. A lot has happened since then, including a series of legal maneuvers which have wound their way through U.S. courts.

Stolen Gold: The 'Black Swan' Discovered

As featured in the special, the "Black Swan" saga begins in March 2007 when the Odyssey Explorer's magnetometer and side-scan sonar detect a large debris field 3,000 feet down in the Atlantic Ocean between Portugal and Morocco. Their deep-sea robot ZEUS is sent down to investigate, where it spies what appears to be a pile of silver coins. As ZEUS continues its ocean floor probe, more coin piles come into view, elating the Odyssey team who now believe that they have a monster treasure in their sights. The project is then assigned the code name "Black Swan."

Viewers can watch as the recovery of the Black Swan treasure takes place. An archaeologist on board maps the entire pre- and post-seabed recovery as ZEUS begins its salvage operations, placing the silver coin piles into buckets where they are hoisted to the surface. One bucket might hold 1,000 Spanish silver reales, which at $1,000 each in collector value translates into a cool one million dollars per bucket. There are so many silver coin piles that the recovery becomes tedious, with the coins embedded in mud and sand and chemically fused together from their time spent in the ocean's depths. 

Gold coins and other artifacts are also discovered, including a passenger's solid gold box which is brought to the surface by ZEUS. It's an amazing sight as the gold coins glint in the sunshine, their first taste of the open air in over two centuries. In order to protect the treasure site, Odyssey Exploration works around the clock, employing 12-hour shifts for its crew. 

Odyssey Marine Exploration CEO Greg Stemm, left, and a conservator amidst containers of recovered silver coins - Discovery Channel

Black Swan: The Mercedes?

Provenance is key in treasure hunting as Odyssey endeavors to identify the shipwreck. There's some speculation that it's the Spanish merchantman the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which was sunk by the British fleet in 1804. A British cannonball blew through the hull of the Mercedes, igniting barrels of black powder below and sending the ship to the bottom in one horrific explosion. 

By May 2007 the Odyssey Explorer has recovered most of the treasure, making for Gibraltar where they declare their find to British authorities. Some of the treasure is first flown to the United States via a private jet while the bulk of the coins are packed in plastic containers and loaded to the gills in a chartered Boeing 747. In all, some 17 tons of treasure is airlifted to the United States, where the booty is placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Court. The treasure is placed in a secret warehouse, where conservation measures are enacted in order to preserve the coins and other artifacts. 

Black Swan: Finders Keepers?

Stolen Gold: Battle for the Black Swan Treasure is both a historical and legal mystery. Spain, believing that the shipwreck is the Mercedes, likening its cultural heritage to that of the Americans' USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, files suit to claim the treasure. What transpires next is a series of legal battles in U.S. courts, with politics and the infamous WikiLeaks case playing supporting roles.

Stolen Gold is a fascinating documentary, expertly filmed by the Discovery Channel. For those who enjoy history, archaeology and a fantastic treasure story to boot, Stolen Gold will more than fit the bill. Check TV listings for the next air date...

Spanish gold coin dated 1780 recovered from the Black Swan site - Discovery Channel

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  • Recovered gold coins from the Black Swan treasure site in the Atlantic Ocean - Discovery Channel

 Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.