Several spread out gold coins

Photograph of Portuguese gold coins recovered from the Bom Jesus, Shipwreck in Namibia

Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: The End in Sight? Archaeological Science, Globalisation and Unsustainability

Lecture 3: Archaeological Science, Globalisation and the Atlantic-Indian Ocean System – Oranjemund Shipwreck

Shadreck Chirikure

University of Oxford

This lecture will take place in person at ISAW.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

The Rostovtzeff Lectures are supported in part by a generous endowment fund given by Roger and Whitney Bagnall.

How humans in different places interacted with their environments and with each other connected them to lands, knowledge, skills and resources afar. People, plants, and animals moved around all the time along the network, making mobility a powerful driver of change in the past and present. Human material relations, technology, increasing populations, and changing cosmologies sometimes deepened or weakened the intensity of interconnections between localities and regions. Globalisation – the net consequence of multiscalar networks – is unsurprisingly a huge theme in humanities and social sciences as well as among politicians and policy makers. It has become so big that to a meaningful extent, it determines outcomes of elections in North America and Europe. This series of lectures brings archaeological science in conversation with the deep history of globalisation, using examples from Africa, a region previously assumed to have no history. Globalisation has been around for millennia: what is different now is that cosmologies of capitalism and hyper accumulation, have pushed the world towards unsustainable production and consumption. Does the world have answers to this unfolding crisis of unsustainability, and are the powerful beneficiaries of current day globalisation prepared to change the course of action? Is the past simply nostalgia or a useful source of solutions to this global challenge?

In 2008, routine sand dredging for diamond mining exposed a Portuguese ship resting on the Atlantic ocean floor since sinking in 1533 on its way to India. The remnants of the Bom Jesus as the ship was known were recovered from Oranjemund, a small town near the Orange River Delta in Namibia. Although the ship was Portuguese, analyses of its eclectic cargo revealed a constellation of materials from Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Asia. The ship was carrying 20 tons of copper, 40 kilograms of gold coins, 7 tons of unworked elephant ivory, 7 tons of lead ingots, 7 kilograms of silver coins, and other materials in smaller quantities. Materials of the cargo of the ship reveal a global circulation system involving multi-directional flows of objects and resources in the 16th century. This lecture uses the Oranjemund shipwreck to discuss circulation and globalisation systems represented by this sunken ship. Regardless of technological differences, it shows that ancient people were as connected as those in the present.

Professor Chirikure is Edward Hall Professor of Archaeological Science and Director of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art in Oxford where he holds a British Academy Global Professorship. Chirikure applies scientific methods to study ancient materials and technologies bringing together natural and social sciences and humanities. He uses the results of discoveries in the field and the laboratory to develop new understanding, conserve heritage and to tackle global challenges such as responses to colonialism. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Academy of Science of Africa. A serial award winning researcher, Chirikure is the Editor in Chief of Archaeometry, and sits on editorial boards of more than 12 journals in archaeology and related disciplines. His book Great Zimbabwe: reclaiming a confiscated past (Routledge, 2021) was well received.

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