Wrecks & shipfinds of the Mediterranean
1. Prehistory and early Antiquity
The earliest open sea navigation was probably on the Mediterranean. This section starts
with the earliest finds and ends with the Archaic Period in Greece around 480 BC. The main sea peoples
at this time were the Egyptians, the Greek, the Phoenicians and the Etruscans.
- Abydos Royal boats. Several large river boats were found,
and partly excavated, on land in Abydos, Egypt, in 2000. Dated to c 3000 BC. This, or the
Kuwait find, is probably the world's oldest find of built
Cheops ships, a.k.a. "Khufu ships" or "Cheops boats".
Around 2600 BC, two planked ships were dismantled and buried in two pits outside the great
pyramid of Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu). Each pit is 30 m long, carved in the rock and covered with a lid
of large stone blocks. The pits were found intact in 1954. Cheops 1 is 42 m long,
assembled 1969-71 and on public display at the Cheops pyramid outside Cairo, where a museum building
was created for the ship in 1982. The hulls were flat or round bottomed, with
Cedarwood planks joined edge to edge by "mortise-and-tenon"
- Dokos wreck,
near Hydra Island, Greece. In 1975, Peter Throckmorton found the cargo from an obviously sunken ship on
20 m depth. The cargo consisted of pottery of the Cycladic type. According to Kenneth Hudson, some
timbers were preserved, but according to other reports stone anchors were found but no wood. Dated to
ca 2250-2050 BC. Investigated 1975, 1977, and 1989-1992 by Dr. George Papathanassopoulos, HIMA. Ref:
Kenneth Hudson, The Book of Shipwrecks (Macmillan 1979).
Four or maybe six planked boats were found in 1894 by Jacques de Morgan, buried
at the Egyptian pyramid of pharaoh Senwosret (Sesostris) III, who died in 1859 BC. They are
carvel-built with the shell first method. The planks were
fastened using both sewing and "mortise-and-tenon"
fastenings. The shapes are similar to that of a papyrus boat. Four boats are preserved, each between
9 and 10 m long. Two of them are displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, in the
main court of the ground floor, just after the main entrance (in May 2004 they were
wrapped up in plastic sheets). The other two are in USA
at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History,
Pittsburgh. Ref British Museum Encyclopaedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology.
- The Signorini finds, Pignataro di
Fuori in Lipari. Off the Italian island Lipari, off Sicily, some pottery has been found, possibly
from a wreck dated around 1700 BC.
- Şeytan Deresi wreck, Turkey.
Surveyed in 1973 and excavated by INA in 1975. Among the finds were two huge pottery vessels. Dated
to ca 1600 BC. No remains of the actual ship was found, perhaps it lost its cargo and sank
wreck, a.k.a. Ulu Burun wreck, near the city of Kas, Turkey. Trading ship of Near Eastern
origin, located at 45-60 m depth. Thanks to pieces of firewood it has been dendro dated to 1316-1305
BC. Excavation headed by George F Bass, INA, in the '80s and '90s. Among the recovered cargo was 10
tons of Cypriotic copper bars and ingots (most of them ox-hide shaped), and tin. Among luxury goods
was a golden scarab with the name of Queen Nefertiti, a golden cup, glass, and plenty of perfume. The
ship may have been 15–16 m long, and the cedar planks were joined by "mortise-and-tenon".
The ship carried no less than 24 stone anchors. Described in National Geographic Dec 1987 &
May 1992, Archaeology Nov/Dec
1998, and IJNA 13.4 1984 & 27.3 1998.
Cape Gelidonya wreck,
near Finike, Turkey. Phoenician trading ship from about 1200 BC, on ca 27 m depth on irregular rocky
bottom. Located in 1954. Excavated from 1960 by Peter Throckmorton, George F Bass, and Frédéric
Dumas. Among the finds were Mycenaean ceramics and copper and tin ingots. Concretions contained
hollows after disintegrated objects. These were moulded producing copies. Ref National Geographic,
May 1960 & May 1962. Syrian cylinder seal with the long dead merchant's "signature" and its clay
impression, image courtesy INA.
- Point Iria wreck,
Greece. Cypriotic or Mycaenian origin, dated to ca 1200 BC, lying on 12-27 m depth. Transporting
Cypriotic pottery. The ship was probably less than 10 m long. Investigated by the Hellenic Institute
of Marine Archaeology in 1991-1995. Link.
- "Tanit" and "Elissa".
These names were given to two of several deep-sea wrecks located in the East Mediterranean, near
ancient Ashkelon, present Gaza, in 1997 on c 260-400 m depth. The ships are Phoenician. Dated to c
725 or possibly back to 800 BC. Ref National Geographic, Jan 2001 &
American Journal of Archaeology, April 2002.
Bajo de la Campana wrecks. Phoenician wrecksite off the Spanish
coast near Cartagena.
- The Mazarrón
wrecks. A Phoenician wrecksite was found under the bottom sand in 1988 off Mazarrón, Murcia, Spain.
The first wreck was investigated in 1993-95 and then reburied for protection. In 1994 a second
Phoenician wreck was found on the site. It is dated to the 2nd half of 7th c BC, with keel and lower
hull parts well preserved. The cargo included lead ingots and a basket. The second ship was raised
1993-95 and may possibly be exhibited in a new museum. Ref IJNA 24.3 1995 and 30.2 2001.
- The Giglio
pre-Classical wreck, Campese, Giglio Island, Italy. Found on 50 m depth in 1961, looted, and
finally investigated 1981-86. Because of its great depth, the excavation required a large number of
divers. Dated to ca 600 BC. One beautiful bronze helmet has been recovered. Among other finds are
Phoenician and Etruscan amphoras as well as Etruscan bucchero pottery. The hull planks were sewn
together. Described in The Giglio Ship by Mensun Bound and IJNA 12.2 1983.
- Pointe Lequin
wreck 1A, Porquerolles Island, France. Greek ship from the Archaic period transporting wine
and dishes toward Marseilles. Its cargo contained Ionic and Attic black figure drinking cups, lamps,
amphoras, vases, and statuettes. Dated to mid-sixth century BC.
Ribaud F wreck, Hyères Islands, France. Etruscan wreck found by DRASSM and Comex in 2000 on
60-75m depth near Giens, France. Investigated by Luc Long in 2000 and 2001, using divers, mini sub
and ROV. Several amphoras and bronze drinking bowls, and black-figure ceramics, were recovered. From
some amphoras the corks were still intact. The ship is ca 20 m long, 7 m wide, loaded with 700-800
amphoras. Dated to 6th century BC. The amphoras are made of clay from the Pyrgi area in Etruria, so
obviously the ship transported Etruscan wine to Gallia, maybe towards the port of Montpellier. Below
4 or 5 layers of amphoras, the lower hull is perfectly preserved under sand and sediment. This find
is spectacular, since it's the first time an Etruscan ship is found. If the archaeologists are really
lucky, they may find preserved texts in Etruscan, which is badly needed to decipher that language.
This may also be the largest and best-preserved wreck from Antiquity ever found. Further excavation
of the hull is pending funding. Ref:
Les Etrusques :
un voyage interrompu, by Bernard George.
- Cap d'Antibes wreck,
France. Found by sport divers in 1955. Carried 160-200 Etruscan amphoras, bucchero
cups, jugs, and one Phoenician lamp. Dated to 6th century BC.
- Bon Porté wreck,
near Saint-Tropez, France. Located on 48 m depth in 1971. Remains of a small ship, possibly of local
origin dated to 530-525 BC. The hull planks were sewn together. The ship carried more than 30 wine
amphoras, probably distributing Etruscan or Greek wine. Investigated in 1974 by Jean-Pierre
Joncheray. Illustration courtesy Gianfranco Purpura, University of Palermo. Ref British Museum
Encyclopaedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology.
- Melkarth wreck, Phoenician wreck on great depth in the western Mediterranean, west of
Cyprus, perhaps from 500 BC, located and video filmed in 1998 by
- The lost
Persian fleet. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, a Persian fleet
sank in a storm in 492 BC off Mount Athos in northern Greece. 20,000 men were lost in
that naval disaster. Underwater archaeologists are now (2004) searching the area. So
far a bronze spear-butt and two helmets have been found, maybe from sunken warships.
Gela wreck, Gela, Sicily. Gela was
a Greek colony founded in 689/688 BC. In the waters off the old city this wreck was found, dated to
ca 490-480 BC. The ship was about 21 m long and the hull planks were sewn together.
Comment: There are very few Mediterranean wrecks from the two
intervals of roughly 1150-750 BC and
400-900 AD. These gaps correspond to times of very little shipping and trade. First gap: The
Dark Ages after the collapsed early Greek civilisations. Second gap: The
Middle Ages. The shipping volume of Roman times
was perhaps not reached again until the 16th or 17th century AD. This has been demonstrated by Dr A. J.
Parker, see diagram.
Page by Per Åkesson rev