The Bom Jesus, a ship which seemingly vanished without a trace, was unearthed in a surprising location in 2008. The ship, its crew, and its cargo of gold went missing in 1533. Known also as the ‘Diamond Shipwreck’, the location of the Bom Jesus has been heavily guarded at its site in the Namibia desert due to its proximity to diamond mines (which influenced its nickname.)
Now, talks have begun regarding the possibility of lifting the veil on the site and opening it to the public as a museum that will feature the shipwreck that was buried in the desert sands for almost 500 years.
Gold coins were discovered among the treasure. ( Dieter Noli )
According to archaeologist Dieter Noli (who was called in when the discovery was first made), the Portuguese sailing ship reached its final resting place after striking a rock near the African coastline known for dangerous seas and storms.
After it struck the rock, Noli says that the ship, “started breaking up and the chest with the coins was in the captain’s cabin, and it broke free and fell to the bottom of the sea intact… In breaking up, a very heavy part of the side of the ship fell on that chest and bent some of the coins. You can see the force by which the chest was hit, but it also protected the chest.”
But what happened to the crew? It is known that the “ship was captained by a Dom Francisco de Noronha, and carried around 300 sailors, soldiers, merchants, priests, nobles, and slaves.” But “the only human remains recovered from the wreck are several toe bones in a shoe found pinned beneath a mass of timbers.” There were also few personal belongings that were found in the wreckage.
These facts have led archaeologists to believe that many of the people who were on the Bom Jesus did not perish with the ship. However, the harsh conditions of the land when they arrived may have brought about the end soon after they left the wreck. Other researchers have suggested that the group may have met with indigenous tribes (who may have helped them) or reached the Orange River, which is not too far from the site
Rosary beads and a silver Portuguese coin that were found with the wreck. (Dieter Noli )
Diamond miners have been working around the site of the Bom Jesus wreckage for more than a century. Their work in Namibia’s Namib Desert (called the Sperrgebiet (“forbidden territory”)) has also provided security for the ship and limited the number of people who have been able to see it.
If the museum plans come through than the Bom Jesus, which is connected to “one of the biggest maritime mysteries” and allegedly “the oldest shipwreck ever found in sub-Saharan Africa” will finally be visited by a long-awaiting public.
Top Image: Artist’s depiction of an ancient ship in trouble. Art by Jon Foster