The Shipwreck and Historical Archaeology collections do not have dedicated collection managers and are administered by the researchers from the Iziko Maritime Archaeology Department. The department also manages the best equipped Waterlogged Objects Conservation Laboratory in Southern Africa.
Iziko Museums have one of the oldest shipwreck collections in South Africa. The collection started in the 1960’s with the formation of the now defunct South African Cultural History Museum (SACHM). The SACHM encouraged donations of shipwreck material from scuba divers. The first donation consisted of artefacts from the 1822 shipwreck of British East India Company ship Fame. Other donations followed over the years with the various amendments to the legislative regime controlling the exploitation of shipwrecks in South Africa (the National Monuments Act of 1969). The Act promulgated that anyone excavating a historical shipwreck had to apply for a permit and get co-operation from a museum. Fifty Percent of recovered artefacts were to go to the museum in question. This system did not work very well. The SACHM granted letters of co-operation for 42 shipwrecks. The resulting collection consisted of only approximately 3000 artefacts. The collection includes shipwrecks dating from the sixteenth to the 19th centuries. (Read more about South African Shipwreck Legislation here)
With the Amalgamation of museums and the formation of Iziko the SACHM ceased to exist. The shipwreck collection is now part of the holdings of Iziko Museums. The formation of a new museum brought a change in policy. Iziko Museums currently accept collections collected as part of bona fide archaeological research as set out in the Unesco Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage of 2001. The museum also conducts its own research. The main research programme currently is on the wreck of the slave ship the São José.
Iziko has as part of its collections an extensive collection of artefacts from several sites in and around Cape Town. Historical archaeological collections presently consist of artefacts and faunal material of the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. The items include ceramics, glass, building materials, clay tobacco pipes, metals, shells, bones, stone tools and miscellaneous finds (e.g., scissors, coins, shells, beads, buckles, tools, nails, pins, handles, gunflints, marbles, and buttons). Most of these collections were generated in the past by previous archaeologists employed by the museum. Some of the sites investigated include the Slave Lodge, Groot Constantia, Bo-Kaap Museum, Koopmans De Wet House and Bertram House. Iziko is also a repository for Historical Archaeology excavations across the Western Cape.