MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. – In a confidential location at sea, explorers believe they're getting closer to what might become the richest archaeological discovery of our time.
A recently washed-up ancient Peruvian funeral mask is believed to be part of a $4 billion sunken treasure off the coast of Melbourne Beach.
According to researchers with Seafarer Exploration Corporation, the treasure went down with a Spanish ship sunk in 1715 during a hurricane as it sailed from Cuba to Spain.
Searching for the past 11 years, Army Ranger and MIT adjunct professor Dr. Mike Torres believes teams have found the debris trail.
"There are not many examples of this in the world today," Torres said about what he called the team's first major discovery in 11 years.
Torres believes the Spanish took the mask from a tomb in Peru.
Long before European contact, archaeologists believe a native civilization smelted the mask possibly thousands of years BC.
Now containing only trace elements of gold and silver, the mask is believed to have originally been gold-plated.
It's mostly copper but also contains iridium, which comes from meteorites.
Torres believes it could be one of the earliest known examples of human metal working.
"They had to, at one point, figure out blast furnaces," he said. "It took serious thought to smelt this."
If the rest of the treasure is discovered, Torres and Seafarer Exploration Corp. get to keep 80 percent of it.
Torres said it would be kept in a collection and preserved for public viewing. The state of Florida would keep the remainder of the discovery.
"I'm going after the mission. What happens after that, I'll face when I need to I suppose," Torres said about the possibility of striking it rich.