/ 1 May 2008

Centuries-old shipwreck found off Namibian coast

A hunt for diamonds along the coast of Namibia has led to the discovery of a shipwreck dating back about five centuries, with its booty of gold coins and bronze cannons still intact.

A spokesperson for Namdeb, the company whose miners made the discovery last month, said the ship was believed to have been the oldest wreck to be discovered in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The site yielded a wealth of objects including six bronze cannons, several tons of copper, over 50 elephant tusks, pewter tableware, navigational instruments, weapons and thousands of Spanish and Portuguese gold coins, minted in the late 1400s and early 1500s,” spokesperson Hilifa Mbako said in a statement late on Wednesday.

“If this proves to be a contemporary of the ships sailed by the likes of Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus around the 1500s, about 500 years ago, it would be of immense national and international interest and Namibia’s most important archaeological find of the century.”

Geologists from Namdeb, a joint venture diamond mining company between industry giant De Beers and the Namibian government, made the discovery during a search for diamonds along the country’s south-west coast.

The searches require Namdeb to literally push back the powerful Atlantic Ocean by the building of massive sea walls and during such an exercise, some rounded copper ingots and the remains of three bronze cannons were found.

All mining operations were halted, the site secured and local experts called in who identified the cannons as Spanish breach-loaders of a type popular in the early 1500s.

“Archaeologists, in conjunction with the National Heritage Council, are keeping an independent inventory of the content, and Namdeb has provided temporary secure storage for the artefacts,” the company stated. — AFP