Ancient Shipwreck Holds Clues to the Past

Here are some excerpts from a fun post by my friend, fellow Arizonan and author of historical fiction, Judith Starkston.

Ancient shipwreckSometimes disaster brings the best rewards. So it is with the Uluburun Bronze Age shipwreck off the coast of southern Turkey. While I’m sure the sailors who went down with the ship sometime around 1300 B.C.E. viewed the sinking of this ship as a complete loss, scholars and history enthusiasts gained immensely. For a writer of fiction set in the Bronze Age world of the Trojan War (Hand of Fire 2014), this ancient ship is a treasure trove. You would think an underwater archaeological dig would be less productive than a land based dig. You would think waterlogged artifacts would have less to offer, would have mostly rotted or washed away. You would be wrong.

From exquisite treasures such as a gold pectoral medallion representing a falcon with outstretched wings holding cobras in each of its claws to insights about trade routes and widespread interaction between far-flung peoples, this silent ship has a lot to say.

Until the 1960’s no one tried to tangle out the information contained in underwater sites. Treasure seekers might raid sunken ships, but universities didn’t view them as rich sources of information. For Aegean studies, the Cape Gelidonya shipwreck excavated by George Blass (who had to learn to dive in 1960 as his first step) changed all that. By the time the Uluburun shipwreck was excavated from 1984-1994, a great deal had been learned and far more precise techniques mastered. Both of these sites receive occasional updates as new approaches to dating, retrieving and preserving are developed…

…We know who some of the people on board were—which seems startling to me, especially as no bodies are involved. The crew was Canaanite (fr. the area now very roughly modern Israel), made up of 4 merchants and an unknown number of sailors. The merchants each had sets of weights using Near Eastern standards that help us identify their place of origin, along with other personal items found in places that indicate crew. The chief merchant, probably the captain, had a Canaanite sword, as well as an extra, fancy set of bronze weights shaped like animals.

But we also know the crew was accompanied by two elite status Mycenaean Greeks, who probably acted on behalf of the king who had ordered the precious goods being carried on the ship. Their presence, indicated by pairs of Mycenaean swords, seals, and other personal items, add to evidence that the ship’s destination was mainland Greece….

Ships hugged the shore as they sailed and surveys of Bronze Age wrecks have gradually shown us the route from the Levantine harbor (or possibly Cyprus) where this ship seems to have started to the Mycenaean heartland. Uncarved elephant and hippopotamus ivory also found on board, from perhaps Syria or Africa, and African ebony show how widespread the interconnectedness of the ancient world was…

To see the full post about this ancient shipwreck, go here. Or click the link to see Judith’s novel, Hand of Fire.

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