A desert along the coastline of Namibia in southern Africa is the unlikely resting place of the Bom Jesus, a Portuguese trading vessel laden with treasure andpriceless artifactsthat set sail for India in 1533 before it vanished into the unforgiving sea and was ultimately buried by sands beneath the ocean floor.

Diamond miners first discovered the site of the wreckage in 2008.

Geologists from the diamond mining company, De Beer, located parts of the wreckage near Oranjemund, which included pieces of metal and wood, but they failed to find the treasure trove. For more than a century, German prospectors had mined diamonds in the vast area of the coastal Namib Desert called the Sperrgebiet (forbidden territory).

The Bom Jesus was laden with untold riches and artifacts.

The ship was loaded down with gold; tin; bronze bowls; pewter tableware, a musket; swords; compasses; astrological tools; more than 50 ivory elephant tusks, five anchors and 44,000 pounds of copper ingots when it apparently went to its watery grave. A massive treasure chest only envisioned in the wildest of dreams contained 2,000 mint-condition gold coins dated from 1525 to 1538, a fact, which helpedarchaeologists identify the ship they came from.

The wreckage was incredibly well preserved.

The copper ingots played a key role in the wreck’s preservation. In the words of Dieter Noli, chief archaeologist of the Southern Africa Institute of Maritime Archaeology: “Marine organisms like wood, leather book covers, peach pips, jute sacking and leather shoes, but copper really puts them off.

A lot of stuff survived the 500 years on the bottom of the sea, which should really not have done so. All this adds up to …the truly excellent preservation of a unique site.”

It will never be known why the ship was sailing in this highly treacherous zone that was well known for its terrible storms and dense fog, but experts theorize that the disaster may have been the result of a combination of too much heavy cargo and hazardous weather conditions.

Perhaps, in a desperate effort to save ship and crew, the captain veered the ship ashore attempting to beach her and then struck jagged rock formations hidden in the surf zone that caused the super structure to collapse and break up.

Who does the treasure now belong to?

Technically, Portugal owns all rights to the treasure, but the country has generously waived this right and granted all gold and artifacts to Namibia where it was found.

The discovery of the Bom Jesus answers a mystery than spanned the course of 500 years and marks the discovery of one of the most significant shipwrecks ever found anywhere.

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