A project that initially had its first research conducted in South Africa in 2008 (Southern African Slave Wrecks and Diasporan Heritage Routes Project) is today a global collaborative archaeological and research effort, known as the Slave Wrecks Project (SWP). The global research project is a collaboration between Iziko Museums of South Africa, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the South African Heritage Resources Agency, the George Washington University and a core group of international and local partners.
The objective of the SWP include using maritime archaeology to advance research and understanding into the various aspects of the global slave trade. The SWP combines research, training and education to build new scholarships and knowledge about the study of the global slave trade.
The team conducts research on the historical African slave trade rooted in specific regions, but with a global reach, that incorporates the disciplines of maritime and historical archaeology, history and anthropology.
The project seeks to assist developing-country partners in the advancement of cultural resource management programs that can preserve and protect irreplaceable heritage related to the historical slave trade and Africa’s diaspora.
The SWP is involved in various maritime archaeological projects. Vessels such as the São José—Paquete de Africa (São José) slave wreck and the Meermin slave vessel, amongst others, are of particular interest to the Southern African slave wreck narrative.
The São José
One of the current SWP research projects include the São José slave ship discovered off the coast of Cape Town.
The still-developing story of the São José represents the work of researchers and scholars from Mozambique, South Africa, Portugal, Brazil and the United States.
From a wreck that was discovered by treasure hunters in the 1980s, the São José was at first mistakenly identified as a wreck of an earlier Dutch vessel. In 2010 the SWP discovered the captain's account of the São José wreck in the Cape archives. This spurred new interest into the site after which the SWP uncovered a series of documents relating to the São José wreck.
Full documentation of the sunken ship site embarked in 2013. Encrusted shackles and iron ballast (used to balance out the weight of human cargo) was found at the site. This confirmed, beyond doubt, that this ship was used to transport enslaved humans. During 2014 and 2015 artefacts were retrieved through a process using CT scan technology.
During June 2015 a memorial ceremony honouring those who lost their lives or were sold into slavery was held where soil from Mozambique was deposited on the São José’s wreck site.
Members of the Slave Wrecks Project include (but are not limited to):
Iziko Museums of South Africa: Jaco Jacqes Boshoff (project principal investigator [PI]), Paul Tichmann, Jake Harding, Gerty Thirion
George Washington University: Stephen C. Lubkemann (project co-PI), Justine Benanty, Nicole Malli
NMAAHC: Paul Gardullo, Nicole Bryner, Lonnie Bunch
U.S. Naval Heritage Command: George Schwarz
African Centre for Heritage Activities: Jonathan Sharfman
South African Heritage Resources Agency: John Gribble, Tara Van Niekerk, Heather Wares
Eduardo Modlane University, Mozambique: Yolanda Pinto, Ricardo Duarte
Diving With a Purpose: Jose Jones, Kamau Sidiki
US National Park Service: David Conlin, David Morgan
A diver with a canon retrieved from the São José slave ship wreck in Cape Town, South Africa.
Watch the Slave Wrecks Project’s principal investigator Jaco Boshoff, curator scientist of maritime archaeology at Iziko Museums of South Africa, unravel some of the artefacts found on the 1794 slave vessel in 2010.
Let Jaco Boshoff, curator scientist of maritime archaeology at Iziko Museums of South Africa, take you through some of the objects recovered from the Grain Silo wreck, a ship unearthed from reclaimed land at the V&A Waterfront.