Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that the ship was the first sunken slave ship to be discovered. This has been corrected.
The Sao Jose-Paquete de Africa sank off the coat of Cape Town in 1794
The ship had been carrying more than 500 slaves bound for Brazil
Archaeologists say they have found the wreck
Archaeologists and divers from across continents believe they have struck history gold, confirming the discovery of a sunken slave ship.
The Sao Jose-Paquete de Africa, a Portuguese slave ship, sank off Cape Town on its way from Mozambique to Brazil in 1794, while carrying more than 500 slaves. The ship’s crew and almost half of those enslaved drowned in the violent waves. It is believed that the surviving slaves were resold in the Western Cape.
So far, only a few remnants have been retrieved from the wreck site, a turbulent spot located between two reefs.
The Slave Wrecks Project, founded in 2008, uncovered shackles, an iron ballast which helped weigh down a ship that carrying human cargo and a wooden pulley block. Iziko Museums of South Africa are expected to formally announce the breakthrough in Cape Town on Monday.
“The Sao Jose slave shipwreck site reverberates with historical significance and represents an addition to our underwater heritage that has the potential to advance knowledge and understanding of slavery, not only at the Cape but on a global level,” said Rooksana Omar, CEO of Iziko Museums, in a statement.
“The Sao Jose is all the more significant because it represents one of the earliest attempts to bring East Africans into the trans-Atlantic slave trade – a shift that played a major role in prolonging that tragic trade for decades,” said Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in a statement.
But it’s seen to be more than just the unearthing of parts – a memorial service took place Monday June 1 to commemorate the ship’s victims. Soil from Mozambique Island – the site from where the Sao Jose embarked on its fateful journey – was also deposited by a team of divers from Mozambique, South Africa and the United States on the wreck site.
Treasure hunters were the first to expose the ship, but they inaccurately recorded it as a Dutch vessel. Between 2010 and 2011, Iziko Museum archaeologist Jaco Boshoff discovered an account of the wreck lodged by the captain of the ship, which rekindled interest in the site. From investigations beginning last year, a document was also found which noted the sale of a slave by a local sheikh to the captain prior to its departure.
The search continues to find further relics, as well as the descendents of those who were on board. “What I’m really hoping for, and we’re still trying to make sure that we’ve got, is a piece of wood from the hull of the ship where the enslaved people were held,” said Bunch to the Smithsonian magazine.
An exhibition entitled “Slavery and Freedom” will open at the African American History and Culture Museum in the fall of 2016, with the findings on loan to the museum for 10 years.