Full-size replica of Ship Wrecked off Uluburun, Turkey in 1319 BC. Credit.
This week’s post is dedicated to exploring the priceless archaeological value of a ship that sank along the coast of Turkey 3,319 years ago. From this one excavation, you’ll gain huge insights into the robust maritime trade of the Middle Bronze Age. It’s known as the Uluburun Shipwreck. You’ll notice the above replica of that ship has a square sail, which cannot sail into the wind.The chart below shows the major land and sea trade routes and harbor towns in the Levant during the Middle Bronze Age. The usual direction of the sea routes are not shown, but the route was pretty much dictated by the currents and winds, and was more easily sailed counterclockwise to take advantage of prevailing water currents and winds.
Middle Bronze Age Land and Sea Trade Routes. Credit and Photo Gallery.
The Chart below shows the route of the ill-fated ship, which was probably repeated for many years before its sinking. The chart also shows some sources of items in its cargo.
European, West Asian, and Northeast African Sources of Uluburun Ship’s Merchandise. Source.
Clearly, coastal freighters traded periodically with the same port markets, as-well-as connecting regular customers as importers or exporters and some as both. But there were special shipments. Various people have noted that the cargo of ten tons of copper ingots and one ton of tin ingots on the Uluburun Shipwreck would be enough to supply a city state’s army with bronze weaponry.
Repetitive Trading Route Explaining How Uluburun Ship Owner Traded Wide Variety of Goods.Source.
The above route was favored by the prevailing winds. During the May to October period, the Meltemi Wind (below) provides power for our square-sailed ship to change its heading from west to south from the Aegean to Santorini, Crete, Libya, and Egypt, as needed for the western side of the above trading route.
The Meltemi Wind from May to October provides southerly heading on the merchants’ route. Source.
The Mediterranean currents map below shows that currents are also favorable for the counterclockwise trade route shown earlier, as centuries of sailing this region taught the survivors, and their genetic descendants.
Mediterranean Currents with speed roses, each indicating the current’s direction and Miles Per Day in its designated square.Source.
Vagaries of the weather affect the wind over this (and all) regions, and certainly made sailing even riskier for Bronze Age seamen. When a barometric depression enters the Mediterranean, say from Gibraltar heading east, it will create a weather effect called a Sirocco blowing north from Africa, as seen below. If our experienced Bronze Age skipper is on the south coast of Greece or Anatolia during a Sirocco, he knows that the wind will shift back to the Meltemi (see above) if he waits awhile. He doesn’t know anything about a Low Pressure moving toward Anatolia, but he has survived the Sirocco before, by anchoring and waiting until the southerly winds were followed by northerly winds.
Sirocco Winds off the African coast result from eastbound Low Pressure system. As Low passes, the winds reverse.
Now that we know about the Bronze Age maritime trade routes, let’s take a look at that ship’s construction. It is advanced in some ways. It looks sleeker than my design for 3203 BC, but its carvel construction with skimpy framing makes it less able to run aground or bump anything without sinking. The mortise and tenon joining was found in the Khufu ship dating back more than a millennium earlier. Let’s watch (in a photo gallery) as an exact replica of the ship (Uluburun II) is constructed and launched. Then let’s watch as a second replica (Uluburun III) is taken to sea and deliberately sunk to form a prop for an underwater archaeology course’s lab work. As you watched that “bump” into the shore rocks and sinking, you watched a replay of the loss of a Bronze Age fortune 3,319 years ago.
Artifacts From the Wreck.
After studying the above facts, let’s feast our eyes on this collection of artifacts from the Uluburun shipwreck. Most of this is permanently housed at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. An exhibition of artifacts and other material, including a blue glass ingot, a copper ingot, Mycenaean pottery, an Andesite scepter, ivory tusks, closeups of a replica stern with dual rudders and a mannequin at the helm. Here are pictures of priceless treasures such as a gold scarab bearing the cartouche of Queen Nefertiti, wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten (the only known seal of this queen), and references to otherwise uncited ebony logs, hippopotamus teeth, ostrich eggshells, Baltic amber beads, and tortoise shells aboard the Uluburun shipwreck. And here with see more fine cargo including a Mycenaean gold and glass necklace, glass ingot, Bronze Age shaving kit mirror and razor, life size model of the ship’s hold with contents, metal and glass ingots, gold earth mother statuette, swords, spear points, pottery, ivory cosmetic boxes, 3 of only 7 artifacts yet found that are made from tin in the Bronze Age, the priceless gold Nefertiti scarab, necklaces, amber, a huge Mycenaean chalice, jewelry, and a wax writing tablet. Summing it up, I include a scholarly paper detailing the valuation of the cargo and loss to the owner.
Wreck Dating Methodology.
We might wonder how the wreck was dated precisely at 1319 BC. The following link gives a well-written and precise answer, illustrating the complexity and ripple-effect implications of archaeological dating. Dendrochronological dating supplements Carbon 14, pottery categorization, and a host of other ways to date ancient artifacts and excavations. It was used to precisely date the Uluburun shipwreck. Many different dating systems were used to place the time of the shipwreck. Especially interesting to me is the large difference between the date of 1441 BC for a big piece of wood (I presume part of the hull, harvested before hull construction) and the pieces of firewood aboard dated at 1319 BC (probably a year before the wreck). That would make the hull 122 years old–which I would think is far beyond the life of a cedar hulled ship–unless progressive maintenance and wood replacement was performed. I have not found anyone (beside me) assigning the large dated piece of lumber as ship structure–not an unreasonable assumption–but knowing the answer would have profound implications on the maintenance of ships at that point in the Bronze Age. The oak-hulled USS Constitution was commissioned in 1798 and is still afloat in 2014, after 216 years–but this ship is supported by the deep pockets of the US Treasury, and hasn’t worked the seas for a long time.
Underwater Archaeology School.
When we watched Uluburun III sink off those rocks in the video above, we were watching the setup of the laboratory for a new course on underwater archaeology at Kas, Turkey. The following is a video brochure for the new school, incorporating an introduction to the Uluburun shipwreck, the new underwater archaeology course, photos of the Uluburun III replica on the bottom, and of students practicing the management of an underwater excavation. Next, we have a video brochure of the underwater archaeology course NAS II at Kaş, Turkey with the Uluburun III (replica) shipwreck on the bottom, and a tourist’s look at Kas, Turkey. This sounds like a good introduction to maritime archaeology from the bottom up.
I conclude this week’s post with this article in History Beneath the Sea Volume 51 Number 6, November/December 1998, by George F. Bass, founder of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and leader of the original excavation of the Uluburun shipwreck. His prediction foresees the incredibly bright future for maritime archaeology, which the application of new developments in deep diving technology is revealing. The implications for the future of archaeology are huge.
Thanks for visiting this week. Hope you enjoyed it.