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Historic Shipwreck Found in Deep Waters Off Israel’s Coast

Bronze Age ship discovered with intact cargo, revolutionizing understanding of ancient maritime navigation.

The oldest deep-sea shipwreck ever discovered has been recovered from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel. Dating back to the Bronze Age, the ship is estimated to be between 3,300 and 3,400 years old and was found carrying hundreds of intact vessels.

The remarkable discovery was made at an incredible depth of 1.8 kilometers (1.125 miles) beneath the sea’s surface during a routine survey by Energean, a natural gas company operating offshore gas fields near Israel. The cargo was identified by the Israel Antiquities Authority as Late Bronze Age Canaanite storage vessels.

“The ship seems to have sunk in crisis, either due to a storm or to an attempted piracy attack – a well-known occurrence in the Late Bronze Age,” said Jacob Sharvit, Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Unit. He added, “This is both the first and the oldest ship found in the Eastern Mediterranean deep sea, ninety kilometers from the nearest shore. This is a world-class history-changing discovery.”

Energean discovered the wreck while using a robotic submarine to examine the seafloor near a potential drill site. “About a year ago, during a survey, we saw the unusual sight of what seemed to be a large pile of jugs heaped on the seafloor,” said Dr. Karnit Bahartan from Energean’s environmental department. “We are in ongoing contact with the Israel Antiquities Authority, and when we sent them the images, it turned out to be a sensational discovery, far beyond what we could imagine.”

In response to the discovery’s significance, Energean dedicated a team to work with Israel Antiquities Authority experts to investigate the ship using their "Energean Star" ship, equipped for deep-sea work. The team developed a special tool to extract artifacts with minimal risk of damage.

“The robot’s survey and mapping of the site clarified this to be a sunken ship about 12-14 meters long that was transporting hundreds of vessels, some of which are buried within the mud,” Sharvit explained. The vessel type identified in the cargo was designed for transporting mass-produced products such as oil, wine, and other agricultural goods.

“This is a truly sensational find. Only two other shipwrecks with cargo are known from the Late Bronze Age in the Mediterranean Sea – the boat from Cape Gelidonya and the Uluburun boat; both found off the Turkish coast,” said Sharvit. Unlike those shipwrecks found near the shore, this discovery changes the understanding of ancient maritime navigation, proving that ancient mariners could traverse the open sea without a line of sight to any landmass.

The shipwreck’s preservation at such depth means that it has remained undisturbed by human activity, waves, or currents, offering a unique snapshot frozen in time. “There is tremendous potential here for research,” Sharvit noted. “The ship is preserved at such a great depth that time has frozen since the moment of disaster – its body and contexts have not been disturbed by human hand.”

This groundbreaking discovery not only provides invaluable insights into ancient maritime trade but also enhances understanding of the navigational skills of ancient mariners, marking a significant advancement in maritime archaeology.

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