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The History of Arqueonautas: (See below featured wrecks: Espadarte, sunk in 1558 / “Cidade Velha” Shipwrecks / Dromadaire, sunk in 1762 / Hartwell, sunk in 1787 /Lady Burgess, sunk in 1806 / Santo Andre, sunk in 1856 / “Rombos Wreck”, sunk 19th Century / “Cognac Wreck”, sunk mid 19th Century)

Arqueonautas was founded on May 19, 1994. Its main mission is to protect world maritime heritage, which it pursues through partnership agreements with governments of different countries.

In August of 1995, an exclusive concession contract was concluded with the Government of Cape Verde covering the whole of the archipelago’s territorial waters. During the seven years in which Arqueonautas pursued its activities around these Atlantic islands, over 100 shipwrecks were located and documented, resulting in 12 recovery operations.

In the course of this project more than 10,000 artifacts of significant cultural and historical value and 65,000 coins were recovered, scientifically documented and preserved. From these finds, about 70% of the artifacts and 40% of the coins remained in Cape Verde for public display at the National Maritime Museum in Cidade da Praia, Santiago.

In the year 2000 work was initiated in Mozambique. Since non-intrusive survey and reconnaissance operations commenced, 32 shipwrecks were discovered of which 3 sites have so far been excavated and scientifically documented.

The first excavation led to the recovery of an important cargo of Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelain from the middle of the 16th Century as well as 12 kilograms of gold nuggets and gold disks that had been smuggled amongst the ship’s ballast. The most significant part of the porcelain is now being catalogued at the National Maritime Museum on the Island of Mozambique for later exhibition. It should be emphasized that this is the most important collection of Ming porcelain existing on the African Continent.

Two Maritime Conservation centers have been established. The first in Cidade de Praia / Cape Verde with the cooperation of the Government of the Republic of Cape Verde, and the second on the Island of Mozambique established under contract between the Government of Mozambique, Arqueonautas and Património Internacional. Both these centers promote the cultural importance of the collections and offer training in maritime archaeology and conservation.

The transfer of knowledge to professionals of the countries where we are active is an important goal characteristic of our way of operating, along with the investment in structures that enable the ongoing implementation of such knowledge, even after Arqueonautas is no longer present in these territories.

The scientific papers resulting from the work carried out in Cape Verde and Mozambique are now being concluded. Scientific publications take long due to the complexity and large volume of information gathered. Their publication in the scientific community will contribute to enhance the knowledge of maritime history between the sixteenth and nineteenth century.


Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, founder and CEO of Arqueonautas, S.A.


Espadarte, sunk in 1558

Code name: IDM-002
Date: May/June 1558 (estimated)
Ship: Portuguese nao
Location: Island of Mozambique
Route: India to Portugal
Weight: Unknown
Casualties: Unknown
Yield: Gold nuggets, porcelains

· Historical Information

The code name given to our wreck was IDM-002 (which stands for the second wreck site found at Ilha de Moçambique) and soon became known within the team as the “Fort San Sebastian Wreck”, but no name or year was possible to identify. By the study of the hull remains and the Ming porcelain we knew it was from the second half of the 16th Century, but the reports in our possession from the archives of Portuguese ships lost in that area and period didn’t seem to match with our wreck.

The study of the porcelain showed that some were inscribed with reign marks, for instance ming jiajing nian zao, ‘made in the Jiajing period of the great Ming dynasty’; Jiajing period lasted from 1522 to 1566, but this did not help us narrow our chronological parameters. The piece that helped us more was a beautifully painted dish with a white hare at the centre and the exterior with a bird perched on the branch of a fruiting peach tree. Its rare cyclical date mark on the underside read gui chou nia zao, or ‘made in the gui chou year’. The Chinese system of dating was based on cycles of sixty years. The cyclical calendar is believed to have started in 2637 BC, but those of the Ming era that interested us, that is to say the period of Portuguese empire, began their cycles in 1444, 1504 and 1564. Each year within the cycle has its own name, in our case it was gui chou. Gui, the first ideogram in the inscription, reading in the Chinese manner from top to bottom and left to right, is one of the so-called ten stems; it combines with chou, the second ideogram of our inscription, which is one of the six possible ‘branch’ characters that can go with gui. The combination of the two tells us that it is the 50th year of the cycle. The question was: which cycle? Based on the art historical evidence, shape, style of painting, subject matter, motifs and subsidiary ornamentation, it could not possibly be from the cycle beginning in 1564 as its 50th year would give us 1613 and put us in the late Wanli period, by which time the artistry was entirely different. Also the cycle beginning 1444 was too early. The only cycle that fit the artistry was the cycle beginning in 1504, which gave us the year 1553, putting the wreck into in the third quarter of the sixteenth century. But this did not mean that our wreck sank in 1553. It would have taken time for the cargo to reach the market, and for it to reach Africa. Chinese porcelain was at the time a very sought-after commodity for Europeans merchants. Having this in mind, the most likely date for the Fort San Sebastian wreck was the five-year period between 1554 and 1558. It could not be earlier because the dated dish gave us a theoretical earliest date; it could, however, be later, but not by much.

Almost seven years after the discovery of the wreck, the uninterrupted archival research carried out by Arqueonautas and its team of specialists finally succeeded. In March of 2007, two documents landed on the conference table of the office of Arqueonautas in Estoril, Portugal. One document from 1554 read as follows:

Espadarte ser perdido em Moçambique vindo por capitão dele D. Álvaro da Silveira e o piloto Diogo Afonso se perdeu na Ponta de Nossa Senhora do Baluarte (...) entramos entre as 10 e as 11 horas dentro do canal e o menos fundo que nele se achou foram 5 braças e achamos o Espadarte como acima digo alagado com o mastro quebrado o qual quebraram com tormenta que trazia vindo do Cabo para Moçambique [vinha da Índia para onde tinha ido em 1554]

(The nao Espadarte, which went to India in 1554, while on return to Portugal broke its mast at the Cape [of Good Hope] and was forced to go back to Mozambique, where it was stranded at the point of Nossa Senhora do Baluarte at a depth of 5 fathoms [9m])

· Recovery Report

The site was found during the systematic survey around Ilha de Moçambique on May 30, 2001, and the only visible remains were a huge stone ballast pile at 9 meters of depth falling abruptly into the channel until 32.5 m depth, where four intact Martaban jars were found. In two sondages practised in different parts of the stone ballast pile, wood timbers were observed, along with lead sheathing, fragments of coarse ceramics, two old anchors and blue and white Chinese porcelain objects, most of them intact and in very good condition. A complete survey of the wreck was done, every possible measurement was taken and a sketch to scale of the site was produced, including the depth isoclines. In order to evaluate the site two test sondages were done, one of 6m2 (3m x 2m) and the other of 1m2 (1m x 1m), both plotted in the site sketch.

Gold artifacts were found in the surrounding area of the ballast pile, all buried inside cylindrical chimneys known as “blow holes,” vents from where gases escaped the magma in previous eras. The first two were a small hemispherical bowl and a bun-ingot. While the first, possibly a salt container, had been cast, hammered and filed into an object of exquisite beauty, the second was a solid, amorphous lump, the result of the gold having been smelted in a crucible and then poured into a simple, crudely formed receptacle that gave the ingot its irregular shape. Most of the gold from this site was totally unmarked, with no signs of fineness or ownership, possibly indicating that they were smuggled to avoid the Crown’s tax. A total of 12.4 kg of small ingots and fragments were recovered.

“Cidade Velha” Shipwrecks

Code name: AGO-050 and AGO-051
Date: 16th Century
Ship: Unknown
Location: Unknown
Route: Unknown
Weight: Unknown
Casualties: Unknown
Yield: Artifacts

· Historical Information

The coastal town of Cidade Velha, or Ribeira Grande as it was formerly known, is where the history of Cape Verde began. In 1572, seventy years after its settlement, it was granted ‘Cidade’ or ‘city’ status. By that time it had a population of 1500, many of which were slaves working in the plantations of the valley.

In July of 1497, Cidade Velha was visited by Vasco da Gama. A less welcome visitor was Francis Drake. In 1585 he attacked the city by land with a force of 1000 men, but the inhabitants had been warned of his approach and fled to the hills, so Drake found the city deserted. Drake returned in 1586 and in a naval battle sank six or seven ships.

In the 17th century Cidade Velha grew and prospered. Located at the crossroads of the Atlantic it became an important stop for ships in need of water, fresh food and repair. In addition it became a large slaving center where slaves were transhipped to destinations in the New World.

· Recovery Report

As with any popular anchorage the seabed around Cidade Velha is rich in material that was lost or discarded by visiting ships. The Arqueonautas team have recovered a series of artifacts from the “Cidade Velha” shipwrecks that include manilas, crucifixes, a range of pottery and a superb bronze cannon, most of them from Portuguese shipwrecks which were sunk at anchor in the harbor of Cidade Velha by Francis Drake on his second attack of this town in 1586.

Dromadaire, sunk in 1762

Code name: VIC-004
Date: February 19th, 1762
Ship: French East Indiaman
Location: Cape Verde
Route: France to India
Weight: 520 Tons
Casualties: 77
Yield: Artifacts

· Historical Information

Le Dromadaire belonged to the French East India Company and was built in Nantes in 1758. Under the command of Captain Joseph Le Houx, she departed from the Port of Lorient in the company of Le Berryer and Le Massiac on February 6th 1762, with a total of 154 people on board. She was a ship of 520 tons, carrying 20 guns, 1000 cannon balls and a chest of silver.

Le Gentil wrote in his diary Voyages (II, 697):

The Dromadaire French East Indiaman of 520 tons monted of 20 canons sailed from Lorient at the end of 1761 under captain Joseph le Hou, with the Massiac captain de Vinselou. The ships sailed between the Cap Verde Islands. M. Vinselou made signel to the Dromadaire before night came asking him to change his tract. The weather was strong and foggy. The Dromadaire did not see the signal and thought to be much off the coast of St. Vicent on which she was lost. Only 77 persons were saved. The crew was salvaged by a Dutch ship that sailed to Cap of Good Hope.

Indeed, due to a political rupture between Spain and Britain, Le Dromadaire was asked to take a different course than normal in order to avoid possible interceptions. After passing the Tropic of Cancer captain Le Houx changed Le Dromadaire’s course to pass to the west of the Cape Verde Islands, separating from Le Massiac, which stayed on her original course. Due to bad weather conditions the two ships soon lost sight of each other. As the weather worsened, navigational instruments were of no use and the ship’s position was based on estimates. Even though night watches and lookout duties were intensified, by the morning of February 19th Le Dromadaire was so close to land that the breakers could be heard. As panic spread among the crew, orders were not followed and maneuvers to save Le Dromadaire could not be executed. Within 7 minutes she was carried against the dangerous reef off the Island of São Vicente by the violent currents and broke into two. A Dutch ship nearby was able to save 77 people.

A letter of the Governor of Cape Verde dated February 19 found in the archives (AHU Cabo-Verde, Caixa 28, dossier 27, dated 30 March 1764) describes the following:

I was charged to give assistance to the crew of the French ship lost on the coast of São Vicente about 60 leagues from here, and to try to recover the cargo. I was only informed that the crew was salvaged with boats, which arrived at São Vicente and São Antão ... The wood salvaged from the wreck has been bought by the bishop and people say that the chest in which the silver was loaded was lost on the seabed. The French told me that they tried several times to salvage the chest but without success because it was too deep…

· Recovery Report

Le Dromadaire wreck site was found on the 22nd of January of 1996 during a survey of San Vicente Island.

The wreck smashed against the coast and the parallel scattering field is 68 meters long from G19 (northern end) to G27 (southern end). Going to the east, the wreck’s debris starts at a depth of 2m, just under the shore and finishes 55 meters away, at a depth of 17.5m at the eastern end of a deep gully.

The team counted 19 cannons and recovered a semi precious stone that has clearly been cut from a ring, copper sheathing and a gold coin dated 1760.

Hartwell, sunk in 1787

Code name: BOA-007
Date: 1787
Ship: English East Indiaman
Location: Cape Verde
Route: UK to China
Weight: 938 Tons
Casualties: None
Yield: Silver coins, artifacts


· Historical Information

Launched amid much celebration, the Hartwell began its maiden voyage to China in February of 1787. It set out with an immensely rich cargo, which included 209,280 oz of fine silver. According to the ship’s owner, John Fiott, the Hartwell was the biggest ship of its kind in the service of the British East India Company. John Fiott’s brother was the captain and other family members were shareholders.

The Hartwell soon ran into trouble. Gales put the ship behind schedule and, on May 20, a mutiny broke out. The cause of the rebellion was a refusal to extinguish lights. A survivor later reported that “knives were drawn, abusive language used and, after a struggle, three men were secured and clapped in irons.” Disorders continued to spread and before long 50 crewmembers were defying all orders from the officers. After three days the mutiny collapsed and the captain changed course for the Cape Verde Islands, his intention being to hand over the mutineers to the Governor.

After three sleepless nights because of disturbances, the ship’s officers accidentally ran the ship onto a reef northeast of the Island of Boa Vista, in the Cape Verde islands off West Africa. It broke up quickly and although all the crew was saved, the entire cargo was lost.

· Recovery Report

The site of the Hartwell wreck off Boavista Island was made known to Arqueonautas by the Capeverdian Government in 1996 and was subsequently surveyed and partly excavated during the following operational seasons.

Earlier salvage attempts by the English East India Company, who employed the Braithwaite brothers, took place between 1788 and 1791, and 97,650 silver dollars were reportedly recovered. Furthermore, over 40,000 coins were salvaged by pirate divers during Braithwaite’s periodic absence from the site. Despite this early salvage success a large quantity of dollars remained near the wreck and from 1994 to 1996 the South African company Afrimar recovered further coins and artifacts before Arqueonautas was asked to survey the site. The large debris field left behind by Afrimar was first analysed in 1997 with the help of a magnetometer survey, to allow for a structured documentation and recovery of the remaining artefacts during the 1998 and 1999 seasons. It was clear that there was no defined debris field that could be related to the deposition of the wreck and its breakup in the 18th century. However, during the following two seasons the locations and context of all finds were recorded. It seems clear that before the 20th century intrusions clusters of concretion might have yielded evidence of cargo-stowage and domestic and personal equipment used on board.

Lady Burgess, sunk in 1806

Code name: VAL-002
Date: Apr. 19, 1806
Ship: English East Indiaman
Location: Cape Verde
Route: UK to India
Weight: 820 Tons
Casualties: 34 to 66
Yield: Gold and silver coins, artifacts

· Historical Information
The Lady Burgess belonged to the English East India Company and set sail for India at beginning of April, 1806. She weighed 820 tons, carried 30 guns and a crew of 100 men. An account of her loss can be read in Captain Swinton’s logbook of the Lord Melville, a ship from the same fleet.
In the early hours of the 20th of April 1806 both ships found themselves separated from their fleet and in great peril. Captain Swinton was able to turn his ship into deep waters; Lady Burgess however, could not escape the breakers. Lord Melville’s logbook describes:
“[by] daylight [they] saw a ship on the reef with his masts gone and sea breaking over her. […] at 10 a.m. [she] was in the middle of the breakers, at 11 the wreck disappeared.”
During the 3 hours of hardship, longboats were sent out and a large part of the crew could be saved. There is no indication in the Commerce Journal of the East India Company that the Lady Burgess was carrying bullion. Her cargo consisted of iron, lead and general merchandise. So far there is also no knowledge of any earlier salvage attempts for the Lady Burgess.

· Recovery Report

Joao Valente reef is almost half way between the islands of Maio and Boa Vista in the Cape Verde Islands, and the wreck is located at the southeast end of this reef (15 48 16.1 N, 23 08 47.0 W).

A pile of lead bars and several rudder pintles and gudgeons surrounding it were the first spotted objects that clearly defined the site a shipwreck. A more careful inspection guided our team to four concreted areas of iron bars and scattered iron blocks. With further survey of the area, our team located another section of the wreck consisting of several cannons and anchors trapped inside deep craters, at 150 meters to the west of the lead pile.

The debris field of this ship is scattered in a wide area of 200m from the pintle P3 (the most eastern point) to the iron hook (the most western point) and runs almost in an east-west direction. There are only a few spots slightly away from the main scattering course. The debris to the north and south is very small (70m in the wider area) compared to the main displacement’s vector of the heavy objects.

Due to the very wide scattering of the evidence, the wreck was divided in two main areas:
· Area #1: stern section, pintles, gudgeons, lead and iron bars
· Area #2: bow section, cannons, anchors, cannon balls, concretions

Santo Andre, sunk in 1856

Code name: BOA-006
Date: 19th Century
Ship: Spanish “Galera”
Location: Cape Verde
Route: Unknown
Weight: Unknown
Casualties: None
Yield: Silver coins, artifacts

· Historical Information

The Santo Andre was a Spanish “Galera” with a cargo of bottles and coins. It sank on the 25th of July, 1856, off the Island of Boavista. There is a report on the wreckage in a work published in 1909 on the shipwrecks in Cape Verde from 1842 to 1908 by Sevéro António Fortes in Liga Naval Portuguesa, Boletim Maritimo publicado pelo Conselho Geral, Série VIII, nº 3.

Arqueonautas was so far unable to discover any further history of this ship. Arqueonautas does not have a concrete historical report on the wreckage conditions.

“Rombos Wreck”

Code name: BRV-006
Date: 19th Century
Ship: 19th Century English Trader
Location: Cape Verde
Route: Unknown
Weight: Unknown
Casualties: Unknown
Yield: Artifacts

· Historical Information

Arqueonautas was unable to discover the identity and history of this ship. As the “Rombos Wreck” is an unidentified shipwreck, Arqueonautas does not have a concrete historical report on the wreckage conditions.

· Recovery Report

The Arqueonautas team found the wreck site BRV-006 in February of 2001 and named the site “Rombos Wreck”. In September of the same year a survey was performed on BRV-006 locating a cargo of tin ingots, cutlery, and wine bottles, as well as two cannons, two anchors and a pile of ballast iron bars.

“Cognac Wreck”

Code name: AGO-039
Date: mid-19th Century
Ship: 19th Century French or British Trader
Location: Cape Verde
Route: Unknown
Weight: Unknown
Casualties: Unknown
Yield: Artifacts

· Historical Information

As the “Cognac Wreck” is an unidentified shipwreck, Arqueonautas does not have a concrete historical report on this wreckage.

· Recovery Report

The site AGO-039 was found in October of 1999 by our team, during a survey around the area of Pta. Lobos where local fishermen reported some wrecks. The wreck is near Punta Bomba, east coast of Santiago Island, lying on the reef shoal, beside a deep channel that goes inside a little bay.

The only heavy objects from the wreck located on the first inspection were an anchor and an iron box, both sitting on the surface of the seabed. Working on a large scattering area, the divers recovered some glass objects (small bottles and stoppers) for identification purposes. The more interesting objects found were two intact bottles of French cognac and one intact stoneware bottle of whisky.

Also found was an iron box full of slates. The slates were only the superficial layer, because under them was a layer of firebricks. The team also found and iron concretion with needles and pewter spoons (which were recovered). There were also small cannon balls. What was particularly curious about this wreck was the absence of other big heavy objects such as cannons or more anchors, but the kind of sediment of the place made it possible that these objects were buried deep down. Another possibility is that they were salvaged earlier.


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