Sadana Island Shipwreck

A 1994 shipwreck survey by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology - Egypt (INA-Egypt), in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities for Egypt (SCA), documented an Ottoman-period 18th century vessel near Safaga (Haldane, 1994; 1996a). 

Qing Dynasty Chinese export porcelain attracted acquisitive visitors to the site, including a group which dived there more than 500 times in the early 1990s. Our discovery in 1996 of over 140 stacked porcelain artifacts buried on the beach suggests that looting was fairly large scale. Excavation began in 1995 (Haldane, 1996a and 1996b). In addition to supplying information about a poorly documented period in the northern Red Sea, the Sadana Island Shipwreck provides a large and diverse collection of well dated artefacts of the mid-18th century, decades significant as trade patterns changed to reflect renewed Ottoman interest in controlling Red Sea commerce.


The Sadana Island shipwreck lies in 28-40 m of water at the sandy base of a coral reef about 35 km south of Hurgada, a popular Red Sea diving resort. The ship sank and settled to one side, parallel to the reef, with its bow pointed inland. With time, much of the ship broke away and slid downslope into deep sand and was buried. The stern is particularly well preserved. Today, many of the ship's internal timbers lie just centimeters beneath the sand or are exposed. Three, 4-m-long, grapnel anchors mark the bow, and the ship's frames can be traced continuously along the 50 x 20 m area.

In 1995, the excavation team concentrated on establishing datum points for mapping the site and clearing its surface of portable artifacts to prevent further looting losses. After almost 3,000 dives in two excavation seasons, the ship seems nearly empty. Large storage jars once clustered in the middle of the site and porcelain, glass and copper objects spread along the central axis have been removed. The site's major feature is the largest artefact, the ship itself. Trenches set out along the top (28-30 m deep) and bottom (32-36 m deep) of the site intersect with three transverse trenches. In addition to recording timbers in these trenches, team members raised representative fragments for study and subsequently buried them on site.

porcelain from the Sadana Island wreck

More than 3,000 artifacts are now under conservation in the Alexandria Laboratory for the Conservation of Submerged Antiquities, a joint project of the SCA and INA, but we suspect that much of the original cargo was lost to looting and natural processes of decay in the sea. Recovery of plant and animal remains is an integral part of our excavation and offers important evidence for this "invisible" cargo. Today as in the past, pilgrim traffic is important in Red Sea shipping, however, the paucity of personal possessions on the Sadana ship (about 30 to date) means that it was not carrying hundreds of passengers when it sank.

Cheryl Ward, PhD
Assistant Professor, Nautical Archaeology
Department of Anthropology
Florida State University


published Sep '02, rev jul '12

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