South Africa discovery reveals slave ship artefacts

Iron bars used as ballast Image copyright Iziko Museums
Image caption Iron bars which were used as ballast on slave ships have been recovered from the dive site

Artefacts from a slave ship wrecked off South Africa are due to be unveiled in Cape Town.

They are thought to be the first objects to be recovered from a slave ship that went down while it was transporting people.

Archaeologists hope the objects will help scholars, as well as be a memorial to all those caught up in the trade.

Millions of Africans were transported as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and many died on the journey.

Remnants from shackles, iron bars used as ballast for the ship and a wooden pulley block will be shown for the first time at Cape Town's Iziko Slave Lodge museum on Tuesday.

Experts say that the iron ballast is a sign that the ship was used to transport slaves as this was often used to weigh the vessel down because humans are not as dense as other types of cargo.

Some of them are due to be loaned to Washington's Smithsonian National Museum of African American History.

The objects were recovered by a joint South African-US team from the Portuguese ship the Sao Jose-Paquete de Africa, which went down in rough conditions just 100m off the coast of Cape Town in December 1794.

Image copyright Iziko Museums
Image caption The sand constantly churned by the water made it difficult for the archaeologists to do their work

It is thought to have been transporting more than 400 enslaved people from Mozambique to Brazil.

The ship was sailing at a time when people captured on Africa's east coast were being brought into the trans-Atlantic trade, which mostly involved the continent's west coast, the Smithsonian museum says.

The Sao Jose had been discovered by treasure hunters in the 1980s, but it was only in 2010 that researchers realised it was a slave ship.

Since then the dive around the ship has been kept secret in order to protect the site.

Sao Jose-Paquete de Africa

  • 27 April 1794 - leaves Lisbon in Portugal for Mozambique with more than 1,400 iron ballast bars on board
  • 3 December 1794 - leaves Mozambique for Brazil with more than 400 enslaved people on board
  • 27 December 1794 - sinks in bad weather off the coast of Cape Town, the captain, crew and half of those enslaved survive
  • 29 December 1794 - captain's report describes those enslaved as property and they are later sold in Cape Town
  • 1980s - wreck discovered by treasure hunters but not identified as a slave ship
  • 2010 - newly uncovered documents reveal that wreck was slave ship
  • 2014 - artefacts found at the wreck site brought ashore


Survivors resold

As well as the unveiling of the artefacts on Tuesday, there will be a memorial to those who died on board.

Researchers say that about half of those being transported drowned.

The ship's captain treated the humans as property in a testimony about the accident submitted to an inquiry, and those who were saved were resold in Cape Town's slave market.

No human remains have been found at the wreck site.

Divers from Mozambique, South Africa and the United States will be going to the wreck to leave earth from Mozambique Island, where the ship departed with its human cargo.

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