(NEWSER) – Miners have been pulling diamonds from a vast area of Namibia's Namib Desert called the Sperrgebiet (or "forbidden territory") for more than a century. But in 2008, workers hunting for diamonds where the desert meets the Atlantic Ocean found something even more precious: the likely remains of the Bom Jesus, a Portuguese sailing ship that disappeared some 500 years ago on its way to India.
It's a discovery, per recent coverage by News.com.au, that solved "one of the biggest maritime mysteries." Also, says archaeologist Dieter Noli, it's the oldest shipwreck ever found in sub-Saharan Africa. And there's treasure as well: Included in the find were some 2,000 gold coins from Spain and Portugal, according to Gainesville News. Upon unearthing the site of the shipwreck, per CNN, workers found pieces of metal, wood, and what looked like pipes.
Not sure what they had found, they called in Noli. "It just looked like a disturbed beach," he told CNN earlier this month, "but lying on it were bits and pieces." Among those were a centuries-old musket and an elephant tusk. "I thought, 'Oh, no no, this is definitely a shipwreck,'" Noli says.
Ultimately, in addition to the gold, workers recovered cannons (the pipes), navigational instruments, tons of copper ingots, swords, and a lot more—some 5,438 artifacts. Not much of the actual structure of the ship remains.
But archaeologists have matched the cargo with that of the Bom Jesus (which means the "Good Jesus") based on details found in a 16th-century book that lists the ship as lost. The stretch of coastline is known for storms. Speaking to CNN, Noli speculates that the Bom Jesus "came in, it hit a rock, and it leaned over." (A famed shipwreck closer to home is getting a closer look.)