“Treasure-filled” Portuguese shipwreck from 16th century found in Namibian desert

A Portuguese ship that went down almost 500 years ago on its way to India was discovered “loaded with over €11 million-worth of gold and other treasure” in the Namibian desert.

US’ Fox News says the shipwreck “answers a centuries–old mystery and is what some archaeologists are calling one of the most significant shipwrecks ever found.”

Remains of the ‘Bom Jesus’ were apparently found in April 2008 while diamond miners from De Beers, the world’s “leading diamond company,” were looking for diamonds along Namibia’s coast near the mining town of Oranjemund.

However, only now was the discovery publically reported. The reason may have been to keep others from interfering with the digs, though no news sources explain the eight-year gap.

At the time of the discovery, De Beers contacted Dr. Dieter Noli, the chief archaeologist of the Southern Africa Institute of Maritime Archaeological Research, who recently opened up about the experience.

“I had been preaching to them for a dozen years that ‘one day’ they would find a shipwreck, and to let me know when they do,” he told Fox News.

A day after the discovery, the geologists from De Beers notified Noli that they’d found some “strange stuff” on the beach – “bits of metal, wood, copper half-spheres and what looked like copper or bronze pipes”.

They also emailed him an image of one of the “pipes,” which Noli immediately recognised to be a piece of 16th century artillery.

After arriving at the site, Noli realised “pretty quickly this new find would be the oldest one yet”.

Indeed, on the sixth day of digs, his team discovered a treasure chest containing an estimated “$13-million worth of gold coins.”

Noli said that made it easier to convince the mining company to keep the site dry – a complex and expensive process as the site is just a few hundred metres away from the sea.

“Academic arguments are all very well, but once you have literally filled your hat with a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese gold coins, the value of the site is no longer in doubt.”

The ship was loaded down “with gold, tin, ivory tusks, and 44,000 pounds of copper ingots”.

Noli says it was the ingots that ended up playing a “key role” in the wreck’s preservation.

“Marine organisms may like wood, leather book covers, peach pips, jute sacking and leather shoes, but copper really puts them off their food – so a lot of stuff survived the 500 years on the bottom of the sea which should really not have done so,” Noli told Fox News.

“All this adds up to an extremely unusual situation, which led to truly excellent preservation of an in any event unique site,” he added.

But what caused the shipwreck, and what was it doing near African’s Skeleton Coast, known for its “famous storms and fog”?

“Poor weather and too much heavy cargo” may be the answer, Noli believes.

“The captain may have decided to run the vessel ashore by putting out his bow anchors and slowly beaching her. The ship then hit a blinder in the surf zone, where she heeled over in the pounding waves. All attempts to free her failed and she broke up, starting with the superstructure.

“The treasure chest fell free from the captain’s cabin, sinking intact to the seabed, where it was subsequently crushed, pinned down and protected by a massive piece of the side of the ship which broke free from the disintegrating hull,” Noli theorised.

Gold goes to Namibia
Though the ship is Portuguese, Namibia is apparently keeping the gold and treasure.

“That is the normal procedure when a ship is found on a beach,” Noli said.

“The only exception is when it is a ship of state – then the country under whose flag the ship was sailing gets it and all its contents. And in this case the ship belonged to the King of Portugal, making it a ship of state – with the ship and its entire contents belonging to Portugal. The Portuguese government, however, very generously waived that right, allowing Namibia to keep the lot.

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