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Cargo Ship Of 3,400 Years Ago Found On Mediterranean Sea Floor

The moments when the jugs come out of the water in a special basket built in their honor. (photo credit: Emil Eljam) via TJP

The cargo of a ship from approximately 3,300 to 3,400 years ago was found 1.8 kilometers deep on the Mediterranean Sea floor, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) revealed on Thursday.

The Jerusalem Post reports that, the cargo, containing hundreds of containers still intact, was found during a standard survey executed by Energean, the natural gas company that operates the Karish, Karish North, Katlan, and Tanin gas rigs off the coast of Israel.

Initially, while conducting a survey along the Mediterranean floor, Energean’s team saw “an unusual sight of what seemed to be a large pile of jugs heaped on the seafloor,” according to Karnit Bahartan, Energean’s environmental lead.

“The ship seems to have sunk in crisis either due to a storm or to an attempted pirate attack – a well-known occurrence in the Late Bronze Age,” said the IAA’s Marine Unit head, Jacob Sharvit, referring to the time period in which the ship sank.

“This is both the first and the oldest ship found in the Eastern Mediterranean’s deep sea, ninety kilometers from the nearest shore.”

History-changing discovery’

“This is a world-class, historical-altering discovery,” he continued.

“This find reveals to us as never before the ancient mariners’ navigational skills – capable of traversing the Mediterranean Sea without a line of sight of any coast.”

Energean and the IAA then joined forces to investigate the discovery, using innovative methods to compile data.

A special tool was built specifically to extract artifacts without harming the entire assemblage.

“The robot’s survey and mapping of the site clarified this to be a sunken ship, ca. 12-14 meters long, which was transporting hundreds of vessels, of which only some are visible above the ocean floor,” Sharvit explained.

“The muddy bottom conceals a second layer of vessels, and it seems that the wooden beams of the ship are also buried within the mud.”

Throughout two days of work, two vessels were extracted by the Energean team from the extremities of the ship so as not to harm the rest of the set.

1718907483052The ship’s control room. The jars were fully retrieved from the depths of the sea in a complex operation by Energean. (credit: EMIL ALADJEM/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY) via TJP

“The casing type identified in the cargo was designed as the most efficient means of transporting relatively cheap and mass-produced products such as oil, wine, and other agricultural products such as fruit,” Sharvit continued.

“Finding such a great quantity of amphorae on board one single ship is testimony to significant commercial ties between its country of origin and the ancient Near Eastern lands on the Mediterranean coast.”

Only two other shipwrecks carrying cargo from the Late Bronze Age have been discovered in the Mediterranean Sea: the Cape Gelidonya boat and the Uluburun boat, both located off the coast of Turkey.

However, both were found near the shore and were “accessible using normal diving equipment,” according to Sharvit.

“Based on these two [findings], the academic assumption until now was that trade in that time was executed by safely flitting from port to port while hugging the coastline, which always remained within eye contact.

“The discovery of this boat now changes our entire understanding of ancient mariner abilities. It is the very first to be found at such a great distance with no line of sight to any landmass.”

He concluded, “There is tremendous potential here for research: the ship is preserved at such a great depth that time has frozen since the moment of the disaster. Because its body and contents have not been disturbed by human hands (divers, fishermen, etc.), nor was it affected by waves and currents, which do impact shipwrecks in shallower waters.” – TJP

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