A ship that sank over 1200 years ago has been found off the coast of the Maagan Michael community in Israel. The wreckage of the vessel was discovered by two amateur divers, who reported the find to authorities.
The researchers at the University of Haifa, who led the study of the archaeological site, do not know what caused the sinking, but claim that the boat was a merchant ship and that it was made of spruce and walnut trees.
“IT IS [uma descoberta] unique, first because of its size: about 20 meters long and 5 meters high, the biggest shipwreck we have ever excavated. And also for its dating. [O navio] is dated to between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, which is when there was the shift between Byzantine and Islamic rule in the area,” said Deborah Cvikel, a nautical archaeologist at the University of Haifa and director of the excavation.
At the time of the sinking, the largely Christian Byzantine Empire was losing control of the eastern portion to Arab and Islamic rule — and it is precisely in this region that the wreckage was found. Therefore, according to scholars, the discovery shows that, even after the area was conquered by outsiders, the West continued to do business there.
“If we look at the history books, they usually tell us that in this shift, after the decline of Byzantine rule in this area and the rise of Islamic rule, trade almost stopped, there was no international trade in the Mediterranean, we had mostly smaller ships sailing along along the coast doing cabotage,” said Cvikel. “Here we have a great shipwreck loaded […] with cargo from all over the Mediterranean.”
Along with the boat, the archaeologists discovered more than 200 amphorae with various ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, such as fish sauce, olives, dates and figs. In addition, the team found artifacts on the deck that show the ship docked in Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey and perhaps even the North African coast.
Scientists also found navigational tools such as ropes and personal items such as wooden combs, as well as animals including the remains of beetles and six mice. Some of the cargoes bore symbols of the Byzantine Christian church and others were written in Arabic.