Scouring the Aegean Sea for the world’s oldest shipwrecks.
A Bronze Age wreck called Ulu Burun shows how the remains of a single ship can transform archaeologists’ understanding of an era. Discovered in 1982, it lies about 9 kilometres southeast of Kaş in southern Turkey, and dates from around 1300 BC, a century or two after the Minoans disappeared.
Christos Agourides, secretary-general of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology in Athens, describes it as “the dream of every marine archaeologist”. It took ten years to excavate, and researchers are still studying the nearly 17 tonnes of treasures recovered. The vast cargo includes ebony, ivory, ostrich eggs, resin, spices, weapons, jewellery and textiles as well as ingots of copper, tin and glass.
But what really stunned archaeologists was that the artefacts on this one vessel came from at least 11 different cultures1 — from a gold scarab bearing the name of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti to copper from Cyprus and tin from central Asia.
The wreck provided tangible evidence of an astonishing array of contacts and trade between the different cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East in the late Bronze Age. The Ulu Burun ship sailed at around the time that Tutankhamun ruled Egypt, and “it is far more important than Tutankhamun’s tomb as a contribution to our understanding of the period”, according to Wachsmann. “This goes to the nitty gritty of the world. It’s Wall Street in a ship.”