Bom Jesus, the Diamond Shipwreck

The Misfortune of the Bom Jesus, the Diamond Shipwreck

(Read the article on one page)

The so-called Age of Discovery in Europe began in the early 15 th century, and produced numerous well-known explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Christopher Columbus.  But there were countless others who lost their lives undertaking their perilous journeys, and as a result, became lost to the pages of history. Nevertheless, the discovery of shipwrecks, lying like skeletons on the ocean floor, resurrects the stories of these long-forgotten explorers, as researchers attempt to piece together the events of their voyage and the circumstances in which they met their final fate.

One such example is the ‘Diamond Shipwreck’. This was a shipwreck discovered in the sands of the Sperrgebiet (meaning ‘Prohibited Area’ in German), which is the rich and off-limits De Beers diamond-mining lease near the mouth of the Orange River on Namibia’s southern coast. In 2008, a company geologist working in the mining area U-60 came across what seemed to be a perfectly half sphere of rock. After picking up this rock and having a closer look at it, he realized that it was actually a copper ingot. On its weathered surface was a peculiar trident-shaped mark, which turned out to be the hallmark of Anton Fugger, one of Renaissance Europe’s wealthiest financiers.

The Diamond Shipwreck

The Diamond Shipwreck. Copyright: Amy Toensing

Archaeologists would eventually find an immense amount of these ingots beneath the sands (22 tonnes in total!), along with weapons, armour, bronze canons, canon balls, pewter bowls, ivory tusks, and of course gold. The gold was in the form of coins, more than 2,000 in total, mainly Spanish excelentes bearing the likenesses of the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, but also some Ventian, Moorish, French and other coinage. As the shipwreck was in the middle of one of the world’s most jealously guarded diamond mines, it is little wonder that its contents had been safe from treasure hunters all this time.

Coins in the Diamond Shipwreck

One of the coins uncovered in the Diamond Shipwreck. Copyright: Amy Toensing

More interestingly, for archaeologists at least, is the ship itself (along with some of the less sparkly artefacts). The ship itself is an East Indiaman from Portugal, and is dated to the 1530s. These were the ships used by traders during the Age of Discovery to bring exotic goods from Asia back to Europe, and brought great wealth to their respective nations. Despite the importance of these ships, there is much that is unknown about them, as the ‘Diamond Shipwreck’ is said to be only the second East Indiaman ever excavated by archaeologists. Therefore, this discovery will be able to give archaeologists new insights into the technical aspects of the ship, from its hull design, rigging, and even the way they evolved over time. Furthermore, as the cargo of this ship is intact, it enables archaeologists to piece together what life was like onboard a trading vessel, including the way food was cooked on the ship and the things that were brought by the explorers.

No story is complete, however, without actors. Based on the available clues, it has been suggested that the ‘Diamond Shipwreck’ was once a ship called the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus). This ship was captained by a Dom Francisco de Noronha, and carried around 300 sailors, soldiers, merchants, priests, nobles, and slaves. There has also been some speculation about the fate of these men. For a start, the only human remains recovered from the wreck are several toe bones in a shoe found pinned beneath a mass of timbers. Furthermore, few personal belongings were among the artefacts. Thus, archaeologists believe that many on board the ship managed to make it to dry land. Nevertheless, the harsh conditions of the land may have killed them off, as it was a barren wasteland that stretched for hundreds of kilometres, and it was winter. On the brighter side, the Orange River lay about 25 kilometres to the south of the shipwreck, and the castaways may have made it there. Moreover, the Portuguese might have met natives, as winter was the season when indigenous tribes ventured along the shore in search of the carcasses of southern right whales that were occasionally washed ashore. In short, it appears that we will never know the final fate of these adventurers.  

Featured image: Artist’s depiction of an ancient ship in trouble. Art by Jon Foster

By Ḏḥwty

References

Bryson, D., 2014. Shipwreck Off Namibia is 500-year-old Treasure Trove. [Online]
Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=4773111

NBC News, 2014. 10 Shipwrecks that Capture Our Imagination. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/29186405/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/shipwrecks-capture-our-imaginations/#.U49y_fldWSo

Smith, R., 2009. Diamond Shipwreck. [Online]
Available at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/10/shipwreck/smith-text

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

A photo of the interior of the Siebenberg House.
The Siebenberg House is a house / museum located in the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. The Siebenberg House is best-known for the archaeological finds that have been made beneath the present structure. The excavations under the house have revealed several archaeological layers, and allow one to obtain a glimpse of the city’s history.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article