Bundìn er bàtlaus mađur *

* “Bound is the boatless man” – a a Viking expression often quoted in “Wooden Boat” magazine

The Uluburun II, a replica of the original one, built by the Turkish scientific group “360 degrees” using same technologies as used in the Bronze Age, here, cruising in Aegean waters.

More than three millennia ago, a sinking merchant vessel settled about 5,900 feet beneath the surface of the Mediterranean Sea. Its hundreds of storage jars, called Canaanite amphorae, spilled into heaps on the seafloor.

Archaeologists recently recovered two of those jars, which are thought to date to between 1400 and 1300 B.C.E., during the late Bronze Age. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which announced the discovery this week, the wreck is the oldest ever found in the deep sea (the depth at which light starts to dwindle, around 656 feet). “The discovery of this boat now changes our entire understanding of ancient mariner navigational skills,” Jacob Sharvit, director of maritime archaeology for the IAA, tells the New York Times’ Franz Lidz. “It is the very first to be found at such a great distance [from the shore] with no line of sight to any landmass. From this geographical point, only the horizon is visible all around.”

The site is located some 55 miles off Israel’s coast. Sharvit says that without access to navigational technologies like compasses and astrolabes, ancient sailors would have needed a comprehensive understanding of celestial navigation to travel so far from land.

Discoveries of this kind are astonishingly rare. Only two other Bronze Age shipwrecks that once carried cargo have been found in the Mediterranean. Both vessels, however, sank near Turkey’s coast, reports CBS News. They are also hundreds of years younger than the newly identified wreck.

Energean, a London-based energy company, discovered the 3,300-year-old cargo during a survey of the seafloor last summer. Pilots captured images of the amphorae using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) controlled via joysticks from the surface.

Israeli law mandates that companies report such discoveries, so Energean staffers sent their images of the wreck site to the IAA. “I almost fell off my chair,” Sharvit tells Haaretz’s Ruth Schuster. “The moment I realized they were Bronze Age jars, I understood this was a very ancient, important find. How important, I didn’t know yet.”

There was just one problem: The IAA doesn’t have submersible technology capable of reaching such depths. Officials contacted Energean and asked if the company would be willing to conduct a recovery mission. “It took us no time to agree,” Eliana Fischler, a spokesperson for Energean, tells Haaretz. “We knew that if we didn’t do it, nobody would.”

After months of planning, the company lowered the ROV—equipped with specially designed attachments—into the sea. After a three-hour descent, it reached the bottom of the Mediterranean. Per Scientific American’s Ilan Ben Zion, operators on the surface took high-resolution videos of the site. They then selected two amphorae to retrieve, which the ROV shuttled safely to the surface.

Nobody knows what caused the doomed vessel to sink. Was it a storm? A leak? A pirate attack? “Whatever happened, it seems to have happened fast,” Sharvit tells Haaretz. “If it sank in a storm and was starting to sink, they would have tried to make it lighter by casting off weight to save it. We saw no sign of that.”

Due to the relative calm at more than 5,000 feet, the wreck may be better preserved than other vessels resting at shallower depths, according to Shelley Wachsmann, a nautical archaeologist at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the research. “Anything that got buried in the sediment is going to survive there, and it’s probably going to be in a better condition,” Wachsmann tells Scientific American.

While no remains of the ship are visible, researchers estimate it measured between 39 and 46 feet long. Because deep-sea missions are notoriously challenging and expensive, Sharvit has no plans to revisit the site. Still, he wonders if wooden beams could be hiding beneath the amphorae, waiting to be discovered.


Comment: This is quite a find. A CNN article on the find emphasizes how this discovery changes the understanding of sailing in the ancient world. Ancient sailors of the Mediterranean may have used celestial navigation to navigate over open water much like the Polynesians. Perhaps they also observed wave patterns. Given that ancient man was far more connected with observant of the natural world around him, this is very likely in my opinion. Before this find, the assumption was that coastal piloting was the way to go since all shipwrecks from that period found thus far have been within sight of the shore. But this was found in the open sea. Conditions at the shipwreck site means that the ship may be largely intact under the preserving mud. Getting it up or just excavating and surveying the wreck will not be easy, but I sure home they find a way to do it. Was this ocean going ship constructed any differently than those found nearer to shore? I’m curious.

I found a two parter on “The Ships of the Sea Peoples” by James Thomas. This also contains an account of a recreated Bronze Age ship built in Greece. He’s definitely into the ships of the Bronze Age. Another article in an archeological website, “The Past,” details the construction of another Bronze Age boat in England. This one is smaller than the Mediterranean ships and is paddle powered, but the construction methods seem very similar to the Greek reproduction. For something that predates Viking longships by two millennia, these Bronze Age ships seem quite similar in construction.






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18 Responses to Bundìn er bàtlaus mađur *

  1. A Portuguese Man says:

    This does not surprise me. The problem with archeology is that archeologists lack the specific education to properly interpret their findings from a scientific and engineering POV.

    Issac Moreno Gallo is a wonderful Spanish civil engineer and amateur historian that has IMO the best YouTube channel I’ve ever seen.

    He explains – and shows – how the Romans (and every advanced civilisation before them) already perfectly knew about geodesy, topology, and pressure, because they wouldn’t otherwise be able to build what we found. Furthermore he was able to replicate the instruments with which they worked.

    His specialty is roads. He explains that the Romans build roads much the same way we do, and for the same purpose: cars.

    The notion that Roman roads were paved with stone is a 19th misconception. They were build of layers of increasingly finer gravel. The archeologists don’t know anything about roads, so they dig until they find the large stone subgrade.

    He shows you all this in his videos, from cross-sections of the roads, to tracking them with drones from above.

    The topic that fascinates me most is hydraulics though. He claims, and I think it beyond dispute, that Romans never ever drank any other water but spring water. They captured entire springs with aquaducts and brought them wherever they wished. Every single city had running water.

    He suggests the reason we don’t find more aquaducts is that they were mostly made of wood, so they’re long gone. But sections have been found in anaerobic conditions. They build syphons to get the water to the highest point of a city, decant it, and then distribute by gravity. Excess water went to the sewers, which thus had constant running water, thus no rats, thus no disease.

    I could go on and on. Just check the channel. Some videos are subtitled in English. Look for the ancient engineering talks he gives.

    Oh, and they also had mills. As in metal milling. LOL


  2. A Portuguese Man says:

    I guess my point was that if Romans had instruments equivalent to a theodolite, which they did, it’s no surprise and expectable that they would have the equivalent to astrolabs and compasses.

    And similar engineering can be found in Greece, Egypt, Persia, India, probably as far back as History goes.

  3. A Portuguese Man says:

    Check out this playlist, several talks either subtitled or dubbed in English for the Spanish-impaired.


  4. English Outsider says:

    TTG – more open thread material this, but maybe a link to the topic in the fatalistic devilment those mariners must have had. After all, if you trust yourself to the open sea in some creaky old wooden contraption you have to have the confidence that you can handle anything fate throws at you. But you also have to be mad.

    Same here. Fred Dibnah, the most famous steeplejack in England and could be the craziest. Lot of people around like that in England, used to be.


    He named his steamroller after his second wife. When she’d finally had enough of the worry, he was going to name it after his third. But thinking about it, and by then beginning to grasp that wives might not be that permanent given his vocation, he decided to name it after his mother instead.

    • Christian J Chuba says:

      I don’t think madness is an issue. Even today, people take calculated risks if the financial reward is large enough. It might only take a few such voyages to be set for life.

      I’m certain that they could figure out celestial navigation but the big drawback are when clouds hide the night sky. I wouldn’t discount the possibility that they had a compass, all that takes is finding iron ore that is already magnetized. Yeah, I know it’s the ‘bronze age’ but does that rule out the possibility that they used trace amounts of iron?

      Looking forward to what they find when they are able to excavate most of the wreck.

      • TTG says:

        Christian J Chuba,

        Compasses weren’t in use until much later, 11th century in China, 14th century in Europe. It would be an earth shattering discovery if such an instrument was found to be in use in the Bronze Age. I think celestial navigation along with reading the winds and waves would be enough. A technique we used in orienteering was to aim to one side of a linear feature, like a shoreline. Once you hit that linear feature, you know your target, a port in this case, would be to the left or to the right.

        • F&L says:

          Finding accurate longitude was a mathematical problem so challenging that it bested the likes of Newton, Liebnitz and the Bernoulli brothers. Meaning it is really really difficult. Not solved till 1761. If I recall correctly there were large financial rewards on offer as motivation for many years. See the link below.

          A marine chronometer is a precision timepiece that is carried on a ship and employed in the determination of the ship’s position by celestial navigation. It is used to determine longitude by comparing Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and the time at the current location found from observations of celestial bodies. When first developed in the 18th century, it was a major technical achievement, as accurate knowledge of the time over a long sea voyage was vital for effective navigation, lacking electronic or communications aids. The first true chronometer was the life work of one man, John Harrison, spanning 31 years of persistent experimentation and testing that revolutionized naval (and later aerial) navigation.

  5. Mark Logan says:

    I don’t think astrolabes or any instrumentation at all would be necessary in the Med. The Polynesians got along fine without precise fixes along the way and with no assurance they would hit a shore before long.

    The merchants knew they had no shot at out-running a pirate vessel so their only strategy was not to be seen, and that means staying away from shorelines. This led to rapid advancement in the art.

  6. mcohen says:

    This I know.
    What does “let there be light mean”.There are 3 kinds of light.Sunlight to see clearly as in the light of the day,Moonlight that governs the waxing and waning of life on earth and starlight to navigate the universe.

  7. leith says:

    Minoans from Crete were deep water sailors, as were the Phoenicians. There are theories that some of the sea peoples that invaded Egypt came from Sicily and/or Sardinia. Those mariners would also have not followed coastlines.

    • Mark Logan says:

      Another incentive to develop the necessary skills to sail off-shore is those square sails and barely-any-lateral-resistance-keels means performance to weather is marginal in even the best conditions, and those stone anchors are for good-weather use only. Anywhere near a lee-shore in high wind and you’re doomed.

      • leith says:

        Right Mark – I read somewhere the Greeks ran their ships up onto sandy beaches at night.

        • Mark Logan says:


          Daylight or darkness, makes no difference. I strongly suspect it’s the reason it took so long for the NW coast of America to be charted. They were looking for a NW passage but they missed the Strait of Juan de Fuca for a hell of a long time. Probably because they were keeping as far off as they could. Venturing close for quick glimpses in the fairest weather only, and usually saw surf pounding on small beaches and rocks when they did and went right back out. The hills and mountains would allow them to keep track of the shore more than 50 miles out along much of it.

          • leith says:

            Many mariners missed the mouth of the Columbia River for the same reason. It’s why the headland there was named Cape Disappointment.

  8. kodlu says:

    Here is recent news about a mediterranean shipwreck which is displayed in Kyrenia castle, Cyprus. Worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood.


    • TTG says:


      Interesting point about dating these shipwrecks while preserving them. I hope funding can be found to examine the deepwater shipwreck properly, maybe dating samples prior to preserving artifacts. Hopefully its location in deep sea mud will preserve the actual hull shape. A lot of wrecks closer to shore are distorted over time due to the harder sea bottoms.

  9. LeaNder says:

    off topic:
    Like stop it, it’s actually painful to watch:
    has been for much longer now.


    What does this odd offer tell us about the state of the US. Maybe Eric can tell us? Is Barbara Ann still around?

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