In 1982 an amateur diver searching for sponges off the coast of the city of Kaç in Turkey came across something spectacular. The wreck of a ship sunk with all its cargo at the end of the Bronze Age, in the 14th century BC.

The wreck and the ship were named Uluburun, after the strip of land southeast of Kaç where it was found, the cape of the same name in the province of Antalya.

The ship was 60 meters offshore and at a maximum depth of 61 meters, and it was not until two years later, in 1984, that recovery work began.

The discovery site / photo Presse03 on Wikimedia Commons

It took 10 years (until 1994) to complete the recovery of the ship and cargo, which can now be seen at the Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Bodrum. Even so, the analysis of the pieces has not yet been completed to this day.

Turkish and American divers made more than 22,000 dives, spending more than 6,600 diving hours on the project.

The ship’s cargo consisted mainly of raw materials for trade. Items that were only known from ancient texts or paintings found in Egyptian tombs until then.

Reconstruction at the Bodrum Museum / photo Georges Jansoone on Wikimedia Commons

The first thing found were raw copper plates, 354 rectangular ingots with a total weight of 10 tons. In addition, another 121 copper scrolls and oval ingots. 40 tin ingots that could have come from the mines of Tartessos.

149 Canaanite jars, most containing olives or a substance known as pistacia resin (a kind of turpentine), traces of which have also been found in the Canaanite jars of Tell el-Amarna in Egypt.

175 ingots of cobalt blue and lavender turquoise glass, which are the earliest known intact glass ingots. Ebony wood logs, hippopotamus and elephant tusks, hippopotamus teeth, turtle shells, ostrich eggs, Cypriot pottery, oil lamps, bronze and copper vessels, two duck-shaped ivory cosmetic boxes, two dozen seashell rings, agates, quartz, gold and silver earrings and rings, amber, bronze carpenter’s tools, 6 spearheads of European type similar to those found in the Alps, an Italic sword, a ceremonial stone axe, and a Nefertiti scarab (dated ca. 1360-1335 B.C.) and indicating that the ship could not have sunk before Nefertiti’s reign.

Copper ingots / photo Martin Bahmann on Wikimedia Commons

Analysis of the ship’s timber yielded a date of around 1400 BC for its construction. However, the wood it was carrying corresponded to trees cut between 1316 and 1305 BC, which indicates that this may be the date of its last voyage and sinking.

This is corroborated by the Mycenaean pottery found on board, which corresponds to that found at the destruction level of Miletus by the Hittite king Mursili II, which occurred in 1312 BC.

But where did the ship and its crew come from? It is still far from clear today. Most researchers believe that it sank after calling at a Syrian-Palestinian port or in Cyprus to pick up 6 tons of copper from the island’s mines.

Part of the jewelry in Bodrum Museum / photo Georges Jansoone on Wikimedia Commons

Before that, it must also have landed in Egypt and other places. The fact is that it had on board more than 18,000 objects of diverse origins: Mycenaean, Cypriot, Canaanite, Kassite, Egyptian and Assyrian. It is believed that its final destination was one of the Mycenaean palaces in mainland Greece.

It measured between 15 and 16 meters in length, and was built with planks and keels of Lebanese cedar and oak, which may give a clue to its origin, as Lebanese cedar is indigenous to the mountains of Lebanon, but also to southern Turkey and central Cyprus.

It had on board 24 stone anchors, of an unusual type in the Aegean, whether as trade goods or to balance the ship’s cargo, is not clear.

Extracting the stone anchors / photo Uluburun Project

Some researchers have suggested that Mycenaean officials also traveled aboard the ship, as a folding boxwood tablet with ivory hinges has been found that may have had wax writing surfaces, which would make the cargo a kind of royal gift set.

What is clear is that the provenance of the objects, extending geographically from northern Europe to Africa, and from Sicily and Sardinia in the west to Mesopotamia in the east, indicates that the Aegean during the Late Bronze Age was the center of a far-reaching international trade, perhaps based on the exchange of gifts among Near Eastern royalty.

This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on June 4, 2019. Puedes leer la versión en español en El fantástico cargamento del Uluburun, un barco de la Edad del Bronce de origen incierto


Institute of Nautical Archaeology / The Bronze Age Shipwreck at Ulu Burun: 1986 Campaign, George F. Bass, Cemal Pulak, Dominique Collon and James Weinstein, American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 93, No. 1 (Jan., 1989), pp. 1-29, DOI: 10.2307/505396 / Nicholson, Paul T., Caroline M. Jackson, and Katharine M. Trott. The Ulu Burun Glass Ingots, Cylindrical Vessels and Egyptian Glass. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 83 (1997): 143-53. doi:10.2307/3822462. / Wikipedia.


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