Project Highlights

More than 12 million Africans were enslaved during the trans-Atlantic slave trade era (1525-1867)
An estimated 1,000 slave ships traversing the Atlantic Middle Passage are believed to have wrecked
The São José is the first ship to be recovered that is known to have sunk while carrying human cargo
Six international partners, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, created the Slave Wrecks Project, which drives exploration of the slave trade through an innovative international collaboration
SWP’s new model of international scholarship engages and invests communities to produce new histories and narratives to reshape the way we understand the past
LOCATION(S): South Africa | Mozambique

The Slave Wrecks Project, a partnership between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Iziko Museums of South Africa, the U.S. National Park Service, the South African Heritage Resource Agency, Diving With a Purpose, and the African Center for Heritage Activities, seeks to bring greater awareness to the study of sunken slave ships and build capacity for research and education in the field of maritime archaeology.

In 2015, the project confirmed the identity of a sunken slave ship—the first ever to be documented—that had been transporting enslaved Africans when it foundered. The discovery and documentation of the São José resulted from close cooperation between numerous local, national and international stakeholders. The project research not only raises the profile of the history and cultural impacts of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but also establishes a new model of international collaboration among museums, research institutions, and the communities they represent.