In a remarkable archaeological revelation from recent years, an ancient ship that mysteriously vanished five centuries ago resurfaced in the southwest African desert, carrying a trove of gold coins.
On March 7, 1533, a Portuguese ship set sail from Lisbon, destined for India. The ship’s fate remained shrouded in mystery until 2008, when its remains were unearthed during diamond mining operations in Namibia’s desert near the coastline.
Caught in a fierce storm, the ship capsized, taking with it valuable cargo, including copper and gold ingots. Surprisingly, tens of thousands of pounds of copper ingots and two thousand pristine gold coins were discovered undamaged on the sunken vessel.
Beyond its monetary cargo, the ship revealed a wealth of historical artifacts. Dr. Noli, the principal archaeologist at the Southern Africa Institute of Maritime Archaeological Research, acknowledged that discovering shipwrecks along this storm-prone coastline wasn’t uncommon. However, within a week of excavation, a treasure chest filled with gold coins surfaced, tracing its origin to the lost Portuguese ship of 1533.
The ship likely succumbed to the storm’s fury off Namibia’s coast, striking a rock and tilting over before being engulfed by the sea. As the waters receded, the vessel emerged in the desert.
The absence of significant human remains at the site, save for a few isolated bone fragments, suggests that most of the crew either perished at sea or managed to escape the sinking ship. Dr. Noli expressed, “It adds new meaning to the concept of the ship having been loaded with gold.”
Additional investigations revealed bronze bowls and, intriguingly, long metal poles identified as cannons. The discovery of a musket estimated to be at least 500 years old, along with fragments indicating a shipwreck concealed in the sand, added layers to the historical puzzle. The excavation unearthed compasses, swords, astrological instruments, and even a time capsule, along with silver coins.
Based on the cargo contents, Dr. Noli and experts deduced that the ship, originating from Lisbon, Portugal, was en route to Western India, following a common path taken by comparable Portuguese vessels of that era.
Dubbed the Bom Jesus, this shipwreck now stands as the most valuable and ancient find off the Western coast of Sub-Saharan Africa. Located in the “forbidden territory” known as Sperrgebiet, the site remains concealed and under the joint guardianship of the Namibian government and DeBeers, the diamond corporation. Access to the shipwreck is limited, guarded by mining security, and discussions about establishing a museum are ongoing but uncertain.