The treasure-laden 16th-century Portuguese vessel that ran aground off Namibia’s Atlantic coast and was unearthed this spring was hailed yesterday by archaeologists as providing a rare insight into the heyday of seafaring explorations between Europe and the Orient.
The shipwreck, which was discovered by geologists dredging the seabed for diamonds in April and was covered in the sand yesterday for preservation purposes, is believed to be the oldest yet found in sub-Saharan Africa.
“This is a cultural treasure of immense importance,” Bruno Werz said when offering journalists a first glimpse of the precious find at the excavation site in Namibia’s diamond-rich ‘no-go zone’. Werz is leading a team of archaeologists and geologists from Namibia, the United States, Portugal, South Africa and Zimbabwe in excavating the ship.
The wreck has been described as the best-preserved example of early Portuguese ships found outside of Portugal. Its good state of preservation is attributed to its long burial in the sand, which preserves wood. Apart from the gold, the ship’s rich bounty includes 1.4kg of silver coins, copper ingots, cannons and navigational instruments.
Not Bartholomew Diaz' ship
It has been speculated that the vessel could be linked to Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz, the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope in the year 1488. But the discovery of about 2000 gold coins minted in 1525, 25 years after Diaz disappeared, put that theory to rest