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African Institute for Marine and Underwater Research, Exploration and Education


Due to the professional backgrounds and expertise of some of its scientists, an important part of the AIMURE’s research programme is presently related to maritime and underwater archaeology. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Ongoing research of the Dutch East-India Company (VOC) ships 'Oosterland' and 'Waddinxveen' (1697).
  • Ongoing research of other wrecks in the Table Bay area.
  • Area surveys in South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Bermuda.
  • Specialist excavations, including that of sub-Saharan Africa's oldest shipwreck.

In due time, the Institute would like to expand its research programme and include projects that deal with the full scope of underwater, marine and maritime studies, such as: oceanography, limnology, hydrographic surveys and marine biology.
Operation Zembe
"3D model of the world's oldest underwater archaeological discoveries".

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On 4 February 1995, a stone hand axe was discovered on the bottom of Table Bay during an archaeological survey.

Other, similar finds were made some time later. Research has indicated that these stone tools are in between 300,000 to 1.5 million years old.

Scientists internationally agree that these are the oldest objects produced by man ever found under water.

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The world's oldest underwater artifacts; hand axes dating to in between 300,000 - 1.5 million years from Table Bay

VIDEO: A marine archaeological expedition in search of pre-historical artifacts, following the findings of Dr. Bruno Werz - Cape Peninsula, South Africa, 2004.
The teams of SES- with the leadership of Monty Halls, and AIMURE searched for potential areas that could possibly be excavated in the near future
VIDEO: A diving archaeological expedition in search of pre-historical artifacts, following the findings of Dr. Bruno Werz - Cape Peninsula, South Africa, 2004.
The teams of SES - with the leadership of Monty Halls, and AIMURE searched for potential areas that could possibly be excavated in the near future.
The discovery of the world’s oldest submarine archaeological finds sparked an enormous international interest. This resulted in substantial global media coverage. A follow-up to the discovery was initiated in 2002. This long-term research programme is called:Operation Zembe, after the word for ‘axe’ in the Nguni languages of southern Africa. The objective of Operation Zembe is to find more evidence of submerged prehistoric habitation sites. This can be directly linked to climate and sea level changes in the past. As part of Operation Zembe, regular diving expeditions are organised. Previously, project participants included divers from the USA, Brazil, the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.

Well-known British television personality Monty Halls and American Kevin Bateman (l.) exploring a cave system around the Cape of Good Hope during an Operation Zembe expedition, in conjunction with the international Scientific Exploration Society (SES).

Maritime Archaeological Project of Table Bay (MAP)

A range of exciting research projects are planned for the future. At the moment, research continues on:
The Maritime Archaeological Project of Table Bay is a long-term holistic research programme that includes oceanographic, bathymetric, climatologic and geological studies of the Table Bay area, as well as historical-archaeological research related to shipwrecks and occupation sites that can be found underwater and on the Bay’s shores. Bruno 14

Since 1989, archival research and fieldwork has been undertaken to try and locate the wreck of the Dutch East India Company ship Haarlem that sank here in 1647. Related to this wreck is a survivor camp that has also not been discovered yet. The wrecking of the Haarlem resulted in the establishment of a provisioning station for passing ships in 1652. This station later developed into the City of Cape Town and for that reason this project is of great significance to South African history.

Over the centuries, more than 360 ships went down in Table Bay. On 24 May 1697, two Dutch East Indiamen were wrecked simultaneously. The remains of the Oosterland and the Waddinxveen were partly excavated during the 1990s but research into their material culture is still ongoing.

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Some finds from the shipwreck of the Oosterland: 17th century Chinese blue-and-white export porcelain and an array of Dutch pewter table ware.

Many wrecks can be found around the infamous Robben Island. These have been surveyed during a large-scale project in conjunction with the South African Navy, code-named Operation Sea Eagle. The Robben Island shipwrecks are in a protected area and are monitored by the South African Navy and Police Services.

South African Police Services diving unit member inspecting the wreck of the British steam linerRangatira that wrecked in 1916 on the west coast of Robben Island in a thick fog.

The Oranjemund shipwreck, Namibia.

A most important project that was undertaken under the leadership of an AIMURE maritime archaeologist was the survey and full excavation of sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest discovered shipwreck. The remains of this Portuguese trading vessel date to the first half of the 16th century and were discovered in a diamond mine on the Namibian coast. This project was world news and reported upon by organisations such as CNN, Sky-news, the BBC and National Geographic.

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During the excavation, state-of-the-art surveying equipment was utilized. The wreck revealed many interesting artifacts and even ‘treasure’, in the form of thousands of 16th century gold coins from Portugal, Spain and other parts of Europe. These are all kept in the Namibian National Bank as part of the national estate.

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