search
Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

archaeology
subscribe
Special Introductory Offer!

10 Greatest Wrecks

Skuldelev Ships

By JAMES P. DELGADO

Monday, March 11, 2013

Denmark

skuldev-ships

Starting in 1962 and continuing with more recent recoveries, a group of eleventh-century Viking ships have been lifted out of the shallow waters off Roskilde, a former capital of Denmark. The ships, ranging from common cargo carriers to warships, had been filled with stone and sunk to block a sea channel from invaders. The finds, and the analysis and reconstruction of the ships led by the late Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, provided the world with its first detailed look at a range of Viking craft separate from the more ornate royal craft discovered in ship burials on land. The Skuldelev ships speak to sophisticated shipbuilding as well as extensive specialization. Their discovery has helped to overturn the commonly held stereotype of a “Viking ship” as a large dragon-beaked warship lined with shields. The work on the Skuldelev ships has included the creation of sailing replicas and helped drive resurgent interest in the Vikings as diverse and skilled traders, explorers, and warriors with a command of the seas. Starting with Skuldelev and continuing with finds in former Viking ports such as Dublin, Ireland, archaeology has rewritten Viking maritime history.

Khubilai Khan Fleet

By JAMES P. DELGADO

Monday, March 11, 2013

Japan

khubilai-khan-fleet

The largest naval invasions in history were the seaborne assaults of 1274 and 1281 on Japan by Mongol, Chinese, and Korean soldiers, marines, and sailors under orders from Emperor Khubilai Khan. According to legend, the ships numbered in the thousands and more than 100,000 men participated in the 1281 attack. Both invasions were part of the Khan’s plan to assimilate Japan into the Mongol Empire—and both failed. Japanese legend and an account by Marco Polo blame the defeat on a heavenly sent wind, or storm, in response to prayers for deliverance. The legend of that wind, the “kamikaze,” would later inspire Japanese World War II pilots to fly their planes into Allied ships. Since the 1980s, and especially in recent years, archaeological surveys and excavations led by Torao Mozai and Kenzo Hayashida have yielded a large number of artifacts, including weapons, armor, containers for provisions, personal items, and the fragmented remains of some of the ships. Analysis by Randall Sasaki and Jun Kimura of the Chinese-built warships has revealed that they were far more advanced in their construction and technology than contemporary European craft. And excavations have yielded the oldest sea-going bombs, catapult-launched ceramic shells packed with gunpowder and metal shrapnel. In addition, archaeological research has been able to augment limited documentary evidence of the details of the Japanese defense and victory. Finds offer clear evidence of the use of fire ships—craft set ablaze and launched at the enemy—and of hand-to-hand combat on decks. These efforts held the invaders off the beaches until a seasonal typhoon wreaked havoc. Further, excavations show that the attacking ships were rushed into war and appear to have been in poor condition, some from the ravages of battle and some from having been built in haste. Inadequate preparations on the part of the attackers, compounded by what became a protracted siege against an indomitable foe, spelled defeat when time ran out and the weather turned. These archaeological discoveries not only bring a legend to life, but also have helped to greatly increase our knowledge of naval warfare in Asia.

Bajo de la Campana

By JAMES P. DELGADO

Monday, March 11, 2013

Spain

bajo-de-la-campana

 

The first Phoenician shipwreck to be excavated by archaeologists, the wreck at Bajo de la Campana, a submerged rock reef off Spain’s coast near Cartagena, dates to some 2,700 years ago. The ship ran aground and spilled its cargo onto the seabed, where a number of finds ended up clustered in a sea cave. Under the direction of Mark Polzer and Juan Piñedo Reyes, archaeologists recovered fragments of the hull along with a large number of ceramic and bronze artifacts, as well as pine nuts, amber, elephant tusks, and lead ore. The tusks include examples engraved with the Punic names of their owners. The Bajo de la Campana ship was likely a trader from the Eastern Mediterranean that journeyed west, at least as far as today’s Cadiz, in its quest for goods. Most were raw commodities, such as the ivory and lead ore, which the ship’s crew had acquired through trade with the indigenous people of this part of Spain. The wreck at Bajo de la Campana is still undergoing analysis by Polzer and Piñedo at Cartagena’s Museum of Underwater Archaeology but has already yielded evidence of a wide maritime trade network. The Bajo de la Campana ship demonstrates, like the earlier Cape Gelidonya and Uluburun ships, that commerce by sea linked cultures and helped build trading empires—in this case, that of the Phoenicians. In time, they dominated the Western Mediterranean, established port cities and colonies such as Cartago Nuovo (today’s Cartagena), and ultimately clashed with the growing power of Rome.

Kyrenia

By JAMES P. DELGADO

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cyprus

Kyrenia

The excavation and recovery of the well-preserved remains of this late-fourth-century b.c. Greek merchant vessel off the coast of Cyprus has yielded substantial information on the construction of classical Greek boats, often seen depicted in paintings on ancient ceramics. The archaeology, led by the late Michael Katzev and now being completed by Susan Katzev, showed that sometime around 306 B.C., the ship, with a four-person crew from Rhodes, was overcome and sank in what seems to have been a pirate attack that left eight iron spear points embedded in the hull. This nearly two-thousand-year-old victim is the earliest physical evidence of piracy. After conservation and reassembly, the hull of the Kyrenia ship is now on display in the Kyrenia Crusader Castle on Cyprus. Also, a sailing replica of the ship, launched in 1985 and christened Kyrenia II, was a successful application of experimental archaeology. It has allowed archaeologists to learn much more about the form and handling abilities of these now-vanished ships.

Cape Gelidonya and Uluburun

By JAMES P. DELGADO

Monday, March 11, 2013

Turkey

cape-gelidonya-uluburunThe two oldest wrecks ever excavated, these two Bronze Age ships and their cargoes, were discovered off the coast of Turkey. Excavated in 1960 (the site was resurveyed and small additional finds uncovered in 2010), Cape Gelidonya was the first ancient shipwreck to be dug in its entirety from the seabed by archaeologists. Dating to around 1200 B.C., the vessel was most likely the possession of an itinerant metalsmith of Cypriot or Syrian origin, and the wreckage has yielded more than a ton of ingots, scrap bronze tools, weapons, and other objects, as well as metal-working tools. The artifacts convinced original excavator George Bass—known as the father of underwater archaeology—that ancient Mediterranean maritime trade had not been dominated by Mycenaean Greeks. Finds of Greek artifacts at a number of land sites had fostered that view, but Bass believed instead that Near Eastern seafarers, or “proto-Phoenicians,” were more likely to have controlled those ancient trades and seas. This hypothesis was borne out by the discovery and 1984–94 excavation of the Uluburun wreck, which dates to around 1330 B.C. Either Canaanite or Cypriot, the Uluburun ship carried a diverse cargo of raw and manufactured luxury items and commodities from at least 11 far-spread ancient cultures, ranging from the Baltic to Equatorial Africa, the Mediterranean world, and the Near East. The meticulous recovery also produced fragments from this oldest wreck’s hull. Ongoing analysis by excavator Cemal Pulak now proves Bass’ hypothesis and demonstrates a complex, sophisticated maritime trade network dominated by the proto-Phoenicians more than three millennia ago. Thanks to these two ships, we now know that the ancients were savvy seafarers who built what was for them a “global economy.” The Cape Gelidonya excavation led to the founding of both the world-class Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Turkey and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, the world’s leading scientific organization dedicated to the excavation and study of significant shipwrecks.

Advertisement

Advertisement

IN THIS ISSUE


Advertisement


Advertisement