Arqueonautas Worldwide (AWW) was co-founded by Nikolaus Graf Sandizell in Portugal in 1995. Dedicated to maritime archaeology, it aimed to contribute to the protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH), mainly in developing countries, through a pragmatic approach, sound scientific principles and private investment.
That year, AWW initiated its activities in the archipelago of Cape Verde in West Africa, through an exclusive concession agreement, with the local government, for underwater archaeological activities. During the six years that AWW was active in the country, it developed Cape Verde’s marine archaeological chart, having located and documented 80 wreck sites. It also created the first conservation centre in Cape Verde which later became the Archaeology Museum in Praia, trained a team of local archaeological divers and conservation experts and recovered a collection of artefacts now considered by the local cultural institutions as one of Cape Verde’s three National Heritage Treasures.
Cape Verde was also an important learning step for AWW in several operational and scientific areas, greatly helped by Dr. Margaret Rule, who painstakingly advised and supported the young archaeological team. It was in Cape Verde that AWW realised the importance of having to adapt pre-conceived western ideas about how local inhabitants perceive and relate to their Cultural Heritage, and how important is to involve local communities at all levels to achieve any sort of protection for that Cultural Heritage. It was this first experience and these formative years that gave AWW the expertise to organise and manage long term archaeological expeditions in countries with very limited resources. It was also in Cape Verde that the full complexity of organising an archaeological expedition became clear, the need to fulfil specific academic and scientific parameters up to and including the final scientific publication phase, without ever compromising in terms of the scientific methodology and data gathering processes. Cape Verde was where AWW learnt its trade and learnt from its own mistakes.
In 1999, an exclusive concession license for the entire Province of Nampula covering approximately 700 km of coastline was signed with the government of Mozambique in East Africa. The following year, the first survey mission was conducted around the Island of Mozambique. These 15 years of practically uninterrupted work in Mozambique have led to the discovery and documentation of 45 wreck sites that are part of the marine archaeological chart of the Province of Nampula, developed by AWW. Other milestones of AWW’s work in Mozambique include the installation of the conservation centre at the Island of Mozambique, also the country’s first, the archaeological excavation of 5 wreck sites, the sponsoring of the rehabilitation of the Marine Museum of the Island of Mozambique, the publication of two books (with many more still to come) and the implementation of several different corporate responsibility programmes in the Island of Mozambique. It was in Mozambique, that AWW further developed its strong operational and scientific standards and growing international reputation.
During 2004 and 2005 and following an invitation by local cultural institutions and authorities, AWW organised two survey expeditions in Vietnam. One wreck site found and documented. This was also AWW’s first contact with Southeast Asia where extensive and recurrent fishing trawling fleets have simply destroyed most of the seabed in the region, at an alarming rate and on an impressive scale.
2007 was an important year for AWW, as it marked the start of archaeological activities in Indonesia and it was when the first licensing contract for the Arqueonautas brand was signed with the German fashion company, Kitaro, from Düsseldorf.
In Indonesia, under license from the local authorities, AWW conducted a series of long survey expeditions at the Bangka Strait, Banka-Belitung area and parts of Java. A training program in remote sensing survey techniques for the BUDPAR (Ministry of Culture) staff was organised including the donation of remote sensing equipment. An archaeological reconnaissance mission at a late 16th century wreck site off Java, where a spectacular cargo of Ming porcelain from the Wanli period lies, perfectly illustrates one of the threats to Underwater Cultural Heritage in Indonesia, where wreck sites are constantly pillaged and looted at an ever growing scale.
On the brand front, House of Brands, a subsidiary company of the Hamburg based Otto Group, took control of the Arqueonautas fashion brand and brought in the North American actor, Kevin Costner, as a partner in the venture and brand ambassador. An expansion plan was decided and is being implemented, with the creation of a network of flagship stores and a drive into new international markets. New levels of marketing cooperation between the Arqueonautas fashion brand and the archaeological activities of AWW were also agreed and set in motion.
Meanwhile, a survey and reconnaissance mission was conducted in Brazil in cooperation with the local Barra Sul NGO, at a wreck site near the south channel of Santa Catarina bay. This expedition that took place in 2010, led to the identification of the San Esteban shipwreck which sank in 1583 and was part of an important Spanish fleet commanded by Sarmiento de Gamboa and Diego Flores Valdez, on its way to build two fortified settlements along the Strait of Magellan. To date, the San Esteban is the oldest European wreck site ever found in Brazil.
Always open to new archaeological challenges, in 2013, AWW organised a survey expedition at the Ammersee Lake in Bavaria, Germany, trying to locate the wreckage of a rare Dornier airplane from the end of WWII. Although the target wasn’t found, it opened a new area of research and archaeological practice for AWW.
A major strategic decision was made in 2014. A foundation was registered and as a direct consequence of this, AWW has since been focusing its activities on the management and marketing of the Arqueonautas brand, while actively seeking new brand licensing opportunities in other product classes. This new situation will allow AWW to focus on brand development and achieve significant operational savings. Simultaneously, AWW will continue to pursue its aim of Saving World Maritime Heritage, financially supporting and providing the manpower for the archaeological activities promoted by the newly created foundation.
With almost 20 years’ of existence and over 600 shareholders, AWW is determined to fulfill its mission of protecting ‘under water cultural heritage (UCH)’ and create value for all stakeholders, two objectives clearly made possible with a strong and established Arqueonautas brand.