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HISTORY TODAY: Ancient shipwreck reveals the tenacity of traders and a lost age of Mediterranean trade

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#AceHistoryDesk – A surprise storm? An inexperienced captain?

Whatever the reason, the merchant ship made of fir and walnut trees, and fresh from far-off lands, sank in shallow waters off modern-day Israel more than 1,200 years ago.

At the time the largely Christian Byzantine Empire was losing its grip on this area of the eastern Mediterranean, and Islamic rule was extending its reach.

But this newly-discovered shipwreck, dated to the seventh or eighth century AD, is evidence trade continued with the rest of the Mediterranean during that period according to Professor Deborah Cvikel, a nautical archaeologist at the University of Haifa and director of the dig.

a diver takiong notes on a clipboard underwater with the timber wreck of a ship around them
The 25-metre cargo ship is from the seventh or eighth century AD.(Reuters: Alexandros Sotiriou)none

” The history books, they usually tell us that … commerce almost stopped,’ she said.

“There was no international commerce in the Mediterranean. We had mainly smaller vessels sailing along the coast doing cabotage.”

But this no longer seems to be the case.

“Here we have a large shipwreck, which we think the original ship was around 25 metres long, and … laden with cargo from all over the Mediterranean.”

Artefacts on deck show the ship had docked in Cyprus, Egypt, maybe Turkey and perhaps as far away as the North African coast.

The excavation is backed by the Israel Science Foundation, Honor Frost Foundation and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University.

The Israeli coast is home to many ships that sank over the millennia.Vessels were found with Mediterranean ingredients, like olives, dates, and figs, still inside. (Reuters: Amir Yurman)none

The wrecks are more accessible to study than elsewhere in the Mediterranean because the sea is shallow and the sandy bottom preserves artefacts.

A storm might shift the sands and expose a relic, which is what happened with this new discovery at the Israeli coastal community of Maagan Michael.

Two amateur divers spotted a piece of wood sticking out from the bottom and reported it to authorities.

Ancient ingredients

Eight excavation seasons later, Professor Cvikel’s team has mapped out much of the 20-metre-long, five-metre-wide wooden skeleton that remains.The ship is thought to have sunk more than 1,200 years ago. (Reuters: Rony Levinson)none

Using underwater vacuums to clear out 1.5 metres of sand, they found more than 200 amphoras which still held Mediterranean ingredients like fish sauce, and a variety of olives, dates and figs.

There were also ropes and wooden combs, as well as animals, including the remains of beetles and six rats.

“You have to be very attentive because some of the remains, like fish bones, or rat bones, or olive pits, they are so tiny that it could be lost in a split second,” Professor Cvikel said.

Some of the cargo bore symbols of the Christian Byzantine church and others had writing in Arabic.

Researchers hope to find a hall to display the ship in its entirety to the public, otherwise they will cover it with sand and leave it at the sea bottom with the other wrecks.

Reuters

#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: Sept.24: 2022:

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