Sunday, September 28, 2008


Not the bit about the ship.

A team of international archaeologists is working round the clock to rescue the wreck of what is thought to be a 16th Century Portuguese trading ship that lay undisturbed for hundreds of years off Namibia's Atlantic coast. Ivory tusk and a piece of cannon The shipwreck, uncovered in an area drained for diamond mining, has revealed a cargo of metal cannonballs, chunks of wooden hull, imprints of swords, copper ingots and elephant tusks. It was found in April when a crane driver from the diamond mining company Namdeb spotted some coins. The project manager of the rescue excavation, Webber Ndoro, described the find as the "the most exciting archaeological discovery on the African continent in the past 100 years". "This is perhaps the largest find in terms of artefacts from a shipwreck in this part of the world," he said.

The ship may have been unable to withstand the currents in the volatile seas off the Namibian shore. The area is also known as the Skeleton Coast and is associated with the skeletons of wrecked ships and past stories of sailors wandering through the barren landscape in search of food and water.

The bit about the mining.

The site is about 130km (80 miles) south of the Namibian harbour town Luderitz, in an area long sealed off for mining. The mines are established by sea-walling the ocean and dredging the dry seabed for diamonds. Pumps ensure the sea does not reclaim the land - an exercise that is costing thousands of dollars each week.

Bruno Werz, the archaeologist leading the excavations, said the shipwreck was particularly valuable because it had not been tampered with. "This collection has not been disturbed by human interference," he said, "we are very fortunate to have found an untouched wreck with all the material that was on site still here in one collection."
I must know more ...

Inside the forbidden zone is the city of Oranjemund, with its own food-producing farms and reservoirs. The vast mining area runs alongside the Atlantic Ocean. To enter into the mining area, one has to insert his plastic security badge into a slot in the wall and wait for a door to slide open automatically. The central computer, which opens and closes these passageways, tracks the comings and goings of everyone in the mining area. De Beers' helicopters constantly patrol overhead, and closely monitor the activities of the fishing craft that pass by in the ocean (even though the enormous waves would make landing a boat on the beach all but impossible). Behind the beach, a pack of Alsatian guard dogs patrol the no-man's-land between the two barbwire fences. And behind the barbwire fences is the Namib Desert, one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is made impenetrable by 1,000-foot-high sand dunes and 120 degree temperatures.

The extraordinary security procedures are considered necessary in Namibia because what is recovered from the 200 mile-long beach is not kimberlite ore but pure gem diamonds, which can be easily pocketed by anyone. In one small crevice in a rock outcropping, some 15,000 carats of sparkling diamonds were found on this beach some years ago.

The mine, if it can be called a mine, is actually the continental shelf of the Atlantic Ocean. To get at the richest lodes of diamonds, the ocean must be literally pushed back and held back long enough to dig out the diamonds. The mechanism for holding back the pounding surf is a ten-story high mound, which, 600 feet out in the ocean, runs parallel to the beach.

Standing on this sandy mound, I looked down into the "mine," which was actually the exposed floor of the ocean. It was an incredible sight; a full-scale battle between man and nature.

You can see some of the workings on Google Maps ... here ... and here. Old ones here. Can anyone spot any more of the current ones ?


Anonymous said...

LT - didnt you mean note the bit about the ship?

I read it carefully trying to work out what you meant 'til the penny dropped.

Unknown said...

I grew up in the "city of oranjemund" and still frequent there quite regularly. It is no city, a population of about 14000. The town is not as isolated as it sounds either, we actually "import" food from SA (there is only one or two small farming patches that are run by private people to make a few bucks, hardly enough to feed the town)