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Maritime archeologist discovers SA’s shipwreck believed to be from 1647

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Maritime archaeologist and historian, Dr Bruno Werz says he has found strong evidence of the location of one of South Africa’s most significant shipwreck, De Haarlem.

The Dutch trading ship, which belonged to the Dutch East India Company, ran aground in Table Bay in 1647 – five years before the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck to the Cape.

The founding of City of Cape Town and the arrival of the Dutch can be traced back to the incident.

Werz says he has been researching the topic since 1989 and working with a team of other experts. He says several materials were found near the Dolphin beach hotel on the Blaauwberg coastline.

Various avenues of research, including historical and geological information, were followed in locating possible artefacts from the Haarlem. Excavations took place over a period of a year.

“On the 9th of September last year, we found the site that I assume, 95 % sure is the wreckage of the Haarlem and we found completely different material from the sites we excavated,  it revealed lead sheeting, hand-forged copper nails, bolts that were used in the construction of the deic ships,” says DR Bruno Werz.

Carrying a heavy cargo, De Haarlem got stuck in the shallow waters of Table Bay on the 25th of March 1647. Fifty-eight of the crew were repatriated while sixty-two men were left behind to salvage as much of the cargo as possible.

Various objects found during the excavations are currently undergoing tests.

“What we hope to get out of this is the actual source where the metals came from, there were different areas in Europe for example where the copper would have been mined, and by analysing the composition we can fingerprint which one the copper came from,” says Dr Sharad Master, who is Wits University Geoscience.

A process to secure further excavation permits is underway, and Herz says only the discovery of 19 canons and four iron anchors which were left aboard the stricken ship, will prove conclusively De  Haarlem’s final resting place.

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