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Ancient Mariners Emerge from the Deep: Unveiling a Lost Shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea

The discovery of this ancient shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea is a potent reminder of the power of collaboration between industry and archaeology


The jars and their contents were taken for research at the laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem Photo: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

The depths of the Mediterranean Sea have yielded a remarkable discovery, shedding new light on the navigational skills and trade practices of ancient Canaanite mariners. A team of experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Energean, a natural gas company, have collaborated to recover cargo from a 3,300-year-old shipwreck, the deepest ever found in the Eastern Mediterranean. This incredible find, dating back to the Late Bronze Age (14th-13th centuries BCE), offers a glimpse into a bygone era of maritime commerce and the daring voyages undertaken by these early seafarers.

The story begins with a routine survey conducted by Energean as part of their deep-sea natural gas exploration activities. Using advanced submersible robots, the company stumbled upon an unexpected sight: a large pile of what appeared to be jugs scattered across the seafloor, nearly a kilometer below the surface and 90 kilometers from the nearest shore. Recognizing the potential significance of this discovery, Energean immediately notified the IAA, setting in motion a collaborative effort to investigate the find.

“This is both the first and the oldest ship found in the Eastern Mediterranean deep sea,” explains Jacob Sharvit, Head of the IAA Marine Unit. “The location, so far from the coast and with only the horizon visible, suggests the ancient mariners possessed impressive navigational skills, likely relying on celestial bodies like the sun and stars to chart their course.”

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The IAA team, led by Sharvit, deployed sophisticated underwater robots to map the site. Their efforts confirmed the presence of a sunken ship, approximately 12-14 meters long, carrying hundreds of intact vessels – a testament to its role as a cargo vessel. While some of the vessels were visible on the seabed surface, a significant portion remained buried beneath layers of mud, hinting at the possibility of wooden ship remains concealed beneath the sediment.

Understanding the paramount importance of this discovery, Energean stepped forward and dedicated a team of experts to assist the IAA in further exploration. Their “Energean Star” vessel, equipped for deep-sea operations, became the platform for a meticulously planned excavation. Recognizing the delicate nature of the site, the Energean team devised a unique plan and even constructed specialized tools to ensure minimal disruption and damage to the shipwreck and its cargo during artifact retrieval.

“The survey revealed a two-layered assemblage,” explains Sharvit. “The exposed layer consisted of numerous vessels, while the mud concealed a second layer, possibly containing wooden ship components.” Over two days at sea, the Energean team meticulously extracted two vessels – one from each end of the shipwreck – to minimize disturbance to the overall structure and cargo.

Examination of the recovered vessels revealed them to be amphorae, a type of jar commonly used in the ancient world for transporting various commodities. “These amphorae were designed for the efficient transport of bulk goods like oil, wine, and agricultural products,” says Sharvit. “The sheer abundance of amphorae onboard this single vessel suggests a robust trading network connecting the region of origin with the Eastern Mediterranean coast.”

This discovery goes beyond simply adding another shipwreck to the historical record. It rewrites our understanding of ancient maritime trade practices during the Late Bronze Age. Prior to this find, the prevailing understanding was that trade routes primarily hugged the coastline, with ships travelling from port to port within sight of land. However, the location of this shipwreck – far from any landmass – paints a different picture.

“This find is truly sensational,” Sharvit exclaims. “Previously, only two other shipwrecks with cargo from the Late Bronze Age were known in the Mediterranean, both off the Turkish coast and relatively close to shore. This discovery challenges our assumptions about ancient mariners. They were clearly capable of venturing far beyond the coastline, relying on celestial navigation to chart their course.”

The exceptional depth of the wreck presents another exciting aspect for archaeologists. The undisturbed environment has essentially frozen the scene in time since the disaster, offering researchers a pristine snapshot of the ship and its cargo. Unlike shipwrecks found in shallower waters, which are often impacted by currents, waves, and human activity, this discovery provides an unparalleled opportunity to study the vessel and its contents in their original state.

Eli Escusido, Director of the IAA, emphasizes the significance of the find. “These extraordinary discoveries prompted us to showcase the recovered Canaanite vessels to the public,” he states. “This summer, we will be offering ‘sample taste’ tours at our Archaeological Campus, providing visitors with a glimpse of this unique find and the ongoing research efforts.” He concludes by expressing his deep gratitude to Energean for their cooperation and dedication, highlighting the importance of such partnerships in advancing archaeological understanding.

The discovery of this ancient shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea is a potent reminder of the power of collaboration between industry and archaeology. It offers a captivating glimpse into the lives and achievements of ancient mariners, challenging our existing understanding and opening new avenues for



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