Namibia Economist (Windhoek)

3 August 2012

Namibia: Ancient Maritime History Preserved

When the Oranjemund shipwreck was discovered, preliminary work revealed it to be one of the most significant recent discoveries of ancient maritime artefacts. This week, the Deputy Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture, Pohamba Shifeta officially opened the Stakeholders Workshop and Oranjemund Shipwreck Collection Exhibition at the Polytechnic.

First discovered in April 2008 by a Namdeb mine worker, the Oranjemund Shipwreck is another element in the heritage that puts Namibia on the global map said Shifeta during the opening ceremony. "Namibia has always been on the world map, we host the world renowned Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site which is by far the largest concentration of rock engravings in southern Africa."

He said preliminary work revealed that Namibia had discovered one of the most important shipwrecks in history and therefore the government decided to avail resources to contribute to the safety and conservation of the material. "We can count a number of milestones from the rescue excavation to the present stage where we can confidently showcase to our people and to the world, the important heritage we have"

"We started with an audit to get an idea of how much we have and after performing a series of first aids to make sure that the artefacts do not disintegrate, we built a storage facility equipped with the necessary gadgets to control humidity and temperature." He said that Namibians have been trained in all these processes and today run the facility by themselves.

Shifeta said the discovery produced thousands of Spanish gold coins, some rare Portuguese coins, tons of copper, rare navigation equipment and raw elephant ivory. "This material is from varying provenances and tells the history of the processes where it came from."

Helen de Paiva from the Embassy of Portugal said that this shipwreck is an important archeological discovery. She said that the ownership of the collection is not as important as the need to protect it as it is priceless. They are therefore collaborating with the Namibian government for capacity building and training to preserve and manage the shipwreck.

The Deputy Minister said that this inheritance is rare and non renewable therefore should be secured for the future. "We must continue with conservation efforts and build capacity in this area. Training of our people is critical," emphasized Shifeta.

He said the government will ensure that the local communities benefit from this heritage and talks are underway to build a museum so that the world can educate and entertain themselves. "As government we will try our best to ensure that small businesses such as tour guides and other operations are developed."

Shifeta said the government will also continue to build capacity in underwater archeology both in conservation and research.

Furthermore, he said the ministry will also continue to collaborate with international partners from all sectors and encourage research to create more information.

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