National Museum of African American History and Culture To Display Objects from Slave Shipwreck Found Near Cape Town, South Africa
Museum Joins Iziko Museums of South Africa and George Washington University in Slave Wrecks Research Project
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Objects from a slave ship that sank off the coast of Cape
Town in 1794 will be on long-term loan to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American
History and Culture (NMAAHC). The announcement, scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, will take place
at a historic ceremony at Iziko Museums of South Africa. The discovery of the ship marks a milestone
in the study of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and showcases the results of the Slave Wrecks Project, a
unique global partnership among museums and research institutions, including NMAAHC and six
partners in the U.S. and Africa.
Objects from the shipwreck unveiled June 2—iron ballast to weigh down the ship and its
human cargo and a wooden pulley block—were retrieved this year from the wreck site of the São
José-Paquete de Africa, a Portuguese slave ship that sank off the coast of Cape Town on its way to
Brazil while carrying more than 400 enslaved Africans from Mozambique.
Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of NMAAHC, and Rooksana Omar, CEO of Iziko
Museums, will join in the announcement of the shipwreck’s discovery and the artifact loan agreement.
“Perhaps the single greatest symbol of the trans-Atlantic slave trade is the ships that carried
millions of captive Africans across the Atlantic never to return,” said Bunch. “This discovery is
significant because there has never been archeological documentation of a vessel that foundered and was lost while carrying a cargo of enslaved persons. The São José is all the more significant because it represents one of the earliest attempts to bring East Africans into the trans-Atlantic slave trade—a shift that played a major role in prolonging that tragic trade for decades.”