History shipWrecks   Leave a comment




(Jonathan Blair/National Geographic Stock)

 The excavation and recovery of the well-preserved remains of this late-fourth-century b.c. Greek merchant vessel off the coast of Cyprus has yielded substantial information on the construction of classical Greek boats, often seen depicted in paintings on ancient ceramics. The archaeology, led by the late Michael Katzev and now being completed by Susan Katzev, showed that sometime around 306 B.C., the ship, with a four-person crew from Rhodes, was overcome and sank in what seems to have been a pirate attack that left eight iron spear points embedded in the hull. This nearly two-thousand-year-old victim is the earliest physical evidence of piracy. After conservation and reassembly, the hull of the Kyrenia ship is now on display in the Kyrenia Crusader Castle on Cyprus. Also, a sailing replica of the ship, launched in 1985 and christened Kyrenia II, was a successful application of experimental archaeology. It has allowed archaeologists to learn much more about the form and handling abilities of these now-vanished ships.





Cape Gelidonya

The two oldest wrecks ever excavated, these two Bronze Age ships and their cargoes, were discovered off the coast of Turkey. Excavated in 1960 (the site was resurveyed and small additional finds uncovered in 2010), Cape Gelidonya was the first ancient shipwreck to be dug in its entirety from the seabed by archaeologists. Dating to around 1200 B.C., the vessel was most likely the possession of an itinerant metalsmith of Cypriot or Syrian origin, and the wreckage has yielded more than a ton of ingots, scrap bronze tools, weapons, and other objects, as well as metal-working tools. The artifacts convinced original excavator George Bass—known as the father of underwater archaeology—that ancient Mediterranean maritime trade had not been dominated by Mycenaean Greeks. Finds of Greek artifacts at a number of land sites had fostered that view, but Bass believed instead that Near Eastern seafarers, or “proto-Phoenicians,” were more likely to have controlled those ancient trades and seas. This hypothesis was borne out by the discovery and 1984–94 excavation of the Uluburun wreck, which dates to around 1330 b.c. Either Canaanite or Cypriot, the Uluburun ship carried a diverse cargo of raw and manufactured luxury items and commodities from at least 11 far-spread ancient cultures, ranging from the Baltic to Equatorial Africa, the Mediterranean world, and the Near East. The meticulous recovery also produced fragments from this oldest wreck’s hull. Ongoing analysis by excavator Cemal Pulak now proves Bass’ hypothesis and demonstrates a complex, sophisticated maritime trade network dominated by the proto-Phoenicians more than three millennia ago. Thanks to these two ships, we now know that the ancients were savvy seafarers who built what was for them a “global economy.” The Cape Gelidonya excavation led to the founding of both the world-class Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Turkey and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, the world’s leading scientific organization dedicated to the excavation and study of significant shipwrecks.




(Courtesy Istanbul University)

 The largest group of Byzantine shipwrecks ever found emerged over the last several years from the mud of a now-landfilled harbor on the edge of Istanbul. Excavation for a massive subway station that commenced in 2004 exposed—in what had once been the port of the emperor Theodosius—harbor walls, 34 ships, and successive layers of human habitation, buildings, and other structures, covering a several-thousand-year period from the late Neolithic to the late Ottoman. Wooden combs, amphorae laden with cargo, and the skeletons of camels transported from Africa to haul stone during harbor construction are just some of the millions of artifacts uncovered. The wrecks range in age from the fourth century B.C. to the eleventh century A.D. and represent different types of Byzantine merchant vessels, fishing boats, and naval craft, many in excellent condition. Several vessels represent types never before documented, including four rowed warships known as galea. The excavation, by Istanbul University and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology has ended, for the most part, but the task of analyzing, conserving, and reassembling the Yenikapı vessels will take decades. Texas A&M University’s Cemal Pulak, who oversaw the recovery of five vessels, considers Yenikapı to be the single most important site yet found for understanding Byzantine ships. Before Yenikapı, archaeologists’ detailed knowledge of Byzantine craft was limited to a handful of discrete sites. One of those is the eleventh-century Serce Limani wreck off the Turkish coast. Though its hull was fragmented, Serce Limani contained a unique cargo: close to a million fragments of glass that, through painstaking lab work, now offer an unprecedented view of medieval Islamic glasswork.





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