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Archeology: Kenya mission for Sicilian Region and Superintendence

Archeology: Kenya mission for Sicilian Region and Superintendence
Missione archeologica congiunta Sicilia-Kenya 

Palermo - A joint archaeological mission for the Superintendence for the Sea, the Region of Sicily and the National Museums of Kenya took place at Malindi-Ngomeini Bay in the Ngomeini Bay. The mission was supported by the Italian Institute of Culture in Nairobi/Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation within a project started in 2016, with the dual objective of checking whether coastal tourism in Kenya could be geared towards cultural tourism, while promoting Italian expertise in the field of archeology in the country. Ngomeni Bay was explored in a previous Kenya mission by Sebastiano Tusa (March 2016). In addition to its scientific value, the location is especially significant because it hosts the base and platform of the Luigi Broglio Space Center, managed by the Italian Space Agency. The mission had several objectives. Firstly, it aimed at evaluating the conservation of a shipwreck that had been identified and partially uncovered several years before, in the waters near Ras Ngomeini. The shipwreck lies some 6-7 meters below the surface and was identified as a 14th-15th century 40-meter trading ship, probably Portuguese, containing ceramics from Persia and the Far East, elephant ivory tusks and spheres of solid copper. The second objective was a reconnaissance mission of the waters around Ras Ngomeini to check for any other wrecks and, more generally, the historical value of the area. The area could prove extremely interesting because, with the ports of Mombasa to the north and Lamu to the south, many loaded ships would depart, arrive or stop in the bay of Ngomeini, connecting this part of eastern Africa with India and the Far East, but also with the Horn of Africa, the Arabian peninsula, the Persian Gulf and Persia before the arrival of the Portuguese. Vasco da Gama arrived in this coast in 1498 and from here he sailed towards the coast of Malabar in south-western India, opening new routes between Europe and the East. Trade ships from Europe, to and from India and the Far East, used to call at this port. They used to leave Africa and sail towards southern India from here. This coast of modern-day Kenya was always a key link of the trade routes, both before the 15th century, when it was ruled by Arab sultans, and later, under the Portuguese. Precious cargo, such as ivory, leather and slaves were sent from this coast, while porcelains, fabric and spices arrived. Side Scan Sonar reconnaissance focused on the sea East and North of Ras Ngomeini, at the entrance to the bay. Today and in the past, the strongest sea turbulence occurs here, creating problems for sailors and often terrible shipwrecks as well. Data from the reconnaissance validated this theory, since another wreck, previously unknown, was found near Ras Ngomeini and close to the known one. Three more anomalies were found, which could be wrecks. This will be confirmed by direct site inspections, and one of the four potential sites has already been checked by the mission divers. Despite the murky waters, the area revealed a concentration of coral concretions that cover the remains of a sunken ship. This wreck has 17 circular stone elements with a central hole that appear to be flour mills. We can already state that the ship sunk around Ras Ngomeini, among other things, transported millstones of different sizes destined for farms. This was a very successful mission: it allowed observing the state of conservation of the known shipwreck, and identifying a second wreck and three more potential ones. Hence, the area is a very important site for submarine archeology. Further digging should therefore be planned for the known site, in order to preserve its integrity, highlight its characteristics, its age and other unknown cultural features. It is also critical to continue work on the newly found shipwreck and assess the specific features of three other potential wrecks.