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Uluburn Bronze Age Shipwreck at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology webpage. Visit this site for even more information

Also known as the Kas Wreck

Like Cape Gelidonya, this is another Late Bronze Age shipwreck. As we will see this wreck probably dates to the end of the 14th century BC. It too is located on the south-central coast of turkey, roughly 50 miles west of Cape Gelidonya, just a short distance east of another important cape called Ulu Burun, near the town of Kas. Consequently the wreck is known both as the Ulu Burun wreck and as the Kas wreck. The wreck, discovered by a Turkish sponge diver in 1982, was briefly visited by divers of our institute in 1983. Excavation by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, assisted by graduate students from the Texas A&M Nautical Archaeology Program was started the following year, 1984.

Siteplan

This is the site plan generated by the archaeologists. As you can see the wreck lies on a steep, very irregular slope with outcroppings of bedrock interspersed with areas of sand. In the center of this slide you can see within a sandy area between a high boulder and a lower area of bedrock 3 rows of copper ox-hide ingots.

The stern of the ship was probably located, is at a depth of about 140 ft., and the lower end of the site, where the bow was probably located, may extend down to a depth of about 190 ft. (It has been estimated that the ship had been 50-60 ft. Long, but this is really only a guess.) due to the extreme depth, divers generally have been able to stay only 20 minutes on the wreck twice a day, thereafter spending long periods of time decompressing on pure oxygen.



Since the wreck is on a highly irregular slope, modern photographic methods used in accurately mapping an underwater site proved inadequate. Ironically, an acceptable level of accuracy has only been acheived by retuturning to the old-fashioned technique of triangulation emptoyed long ago, at cape gelidonya here we see a diver with a plumb line suspended from a leveled tape measure located at a known elevation above the seabed. The diver has moved the plumb directly above one end of an artifact in order to measure the exact 3-dimensional location of that end of the artifact on a plan of the wreck. Every such measurement made in this way uses up considerable precious diving time.


Another major problem that has greatly slowed progress in excavating the wreck has to do with over 200 metal ingots that constituted one most important cargoes on the ship. A majority of these ingots are so badly corroded that they can very easily be broken. Thus special care has had to be taken in raising these ingots to the surface--here we see a special lifting tray designed just for this purpose.

Ingots

Furthermore, most of these ingots remain stacked together in rows of up to (in one place) 11 ingots deep which had extended over the entire breath of the hull bottom. Large portions of these ingot stacks are now completely concreted together into single monolithic masses, and efforts to chisel the ingots apart more often than not resulted in major damage to the individual ingots. One of our graduate students, Clair Peachey, spent 2 years developing a solution to this problem. We see her here filling all the corrosion voids in an ingot with an epoxy that hardens underwater. She then covers as much of the ingot as possible or necessary with a layer of protective gypsum plaster that again hardens underwater and then adds an outer coating of epoxy. Only then can the ingot be chiseled free, hopefully with minimal damage occurring.



Finally, many of the most important artifacts recovered from this wreck are very small and often their location on the wreck has proven to be significant. Thus some areas of the wreck has had to be excavated with unusual care. Here we see a diver excavating such an area with a paint brush and a very small airlift designed especially for this purpose.

Oxhide Ingot


The ship was carrying as one of her major cargoes 10 tons of copper ingots, and 1 ton of tin ingots--by far and away the largest single hoard of metal from the Mediterranean bronze age that has ever been found. In one row, the overlapping edges would be to starboard--in the row above or below they would be to port. There were at least 4 seperate stacks of ox-hide ingots laid out in this way within the hull. In all cases, it was the smooth side of the ingot that was laid facing down.

Roughly three-quarters of the copper ingots are large ox-hide ingots some 70 to 80 cms. Long and weighing on average about 60 lbs. A couple of these large ingots have been found that have handles only on one side--a fact suggesting that the resemblance of this type of ingot to an ox-hide was not given much importance. Most of the other copper ingots were bun ingots of two sizes: the larger ones were 27 cms. in diameter and weighed about lbs.; the smaller ones 23 cms.in diameter. The bun ingots appear to have been placed in empty spaces within and around the stacks of ox-hide ingots, serving as chocks to keep the stacks from shifting in position within the hull. There were a small number of ingots of other shapes as well. Some were pillow-shaped ingots such as the one shown here. They are about 30 cms. Long and their presence on the wreck is of interest, since it had previously been thought that such ingots were earlier in date than were ingots with fully developed handles.

Tin Ingot


The silver-colored ingots here are of tin. Almost all of the tin ingots take the form of bun ingots and ox-hide ingots. Most of the later, however, are either half ingots or quarter ingots, such as the one we see here.


There were at least 7 large storage jars, called pithoi (singular: pithos).. 2 of these jars were serving as china barrels packed full of pottery made on the island of Cyprus. This is the first evidence that large pithoi were so used for the transport of pottery during the bronze age. The pottery represents some of the best known types of fine Cypriote pottery being made and exported during the late bronze age.

Lamps

Oil lamps with pinched spouts for the wick. These are probably Cypriot imitations of late bronze Syrian oil lamps that are of the same design.



One aspect of any properly excavated shipwreck site nowadays is the recovery and study of surviving remains of plant or animal materials that were present on the ship when it sank. To this end, the mud and sand within all vessels and other containers recovered from the wreck--and even of samples of the wreck site seabed--are carefully sifted and such organic remains are then collected in sample bottles for later study.



Over 25 fragments of wood and some ivory hinges were also collected from the pithos full of pomegranates. When pieced together they foremost interesting objects from the wreck. This is a pair writing tablets mingled together to form a diptych, or book.

Diptych


The central areas of the tablet would have been filled with beeswax on which a scribe could write temporary notes or accounts of one sort or another with a stylus. Until now, the earliest known example of book-form writing tablets were from a well in the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq dating to the late 8th century before Christ. For this reason scholars had thought that when homer speaks of baneful signs on a folded tablet in line 169 of Book 6 of the Iliad, he was mistakenly referring to something known in his own day, that is late in the 8th century, but not during the time of the Trojan war, which occurred around 1200 years before Christ. This diptych proves Homer right, the scholars wrong.

Canaanite Amphorae


Also Syrian are an estimated 130 to 140 2-handled transport jars on the ship. These jars are called amphoras, or in this case, Canaanite amphoras. The amphora was the primary transport container in the ancient Mediterranean world from bronze age times on down into medieval times when they then were in large part replaced by skins and wooden casks.



Slide: a majority of these were carrying a yellow aromatic resin which has turned out to be a turpentine resin from the pistachio tree. Exactly what it was used for in antiquity is not known, but we do know that it has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and in modern egypt is used as chewing gum and as an ingredient in perfumes. The contents of the other amphoras is uncertain, with the exception of one amphora that was full of glass beads.

Beads


The ship was also carrying a cargo of glass ingots in the form of round cakes about 6 inches in diameter and 2 and 1/2 inches thick, weighing on average about 5 lbs. Each. Over 2 dozen of these ingots have been recovered to date. They are the earliest intact glass ingots that have ever been found and constitute the earliest certain evidence for the shipping of raw glass from one region to another. The glass is blue in color, cobalt being the coloring agent.

Glass

Cobalt blue glass was extensively used in new kingdom egypt in the making of glass vessels and in the Mycenaean Greek world for the making of glass jewelry. Chemical analyses now reveals that the Kas wreck ingot glass, the blue glass in ancient egyptian glass vessels and in Mycenaean glass jewelry are chemically all the same, and it now appears clear that Syria in the late bronze age exported raw glass to both Egypt and to the Mycenaean Greeks.

 

There was also one section of an elephant's tusk and five hippopotamus' teeth have so far been recovered. It has only rather recently been realized that hippopotamus teeth were a major source of ivory in the ancient near east.

Ivory


Also - several ostrich eggs - ostrich eggs were fashioned into highly prized liquid containers. Elephants, hippopotamus, and probably ostriches were all still to be found in the wild along the syrio-palestine coast even as late as the late bronze age.



The single object of greatest intrinsic value may be this solid gold cup. However, its historic or archaeological value is--for the moment at least-non-existent, since it doesn't really tell us anything--we don't even have any idea where it was made.

Golden Chalice

What about the ship itself? The hull is not very well preserved, but on the other hand the presence of hull remains has been detected in enough different areas that there is hope that enough of the hull survives here and there to permit a roughly accurate reconstruction of the overall size and shape of the hull and a good general idea about the construction of the hull. We see here a portion of the one area of preserved hull that has been thoroughly cleaned off for study. From a close look at these remains we at least know that this ship had a keel--the member in the foreground--presently the earliest actual keel in existence. We see here as well the garboard--that is the name of the either hull planking strake right next to the keel--the garboard is edge-joined to the keel and to the 2nd planking strake by mortise-and-tenon joints. Unlike in the earlier cheops boat and the dashur boats, where the tenons were not fastened down in place within their mortises in any way, here the tenons are fastened in place by pegs that pass through the thickness of the planking and through the tenons within the planking, there being 2 pegs in each joint, one on either side of the seam between the adjoining planks. The diver is pointing to one of the pegs in this slide. As we will see, this is the way hull planking was edge-joined together in ancient Greek and roman times, and before the excavation of the Kas wreck our earliest example of this kind of hull construction dated no earlier than the 5th century b.c., a full 900 years later. As is often the case, the planking in this hull was of a soft wood, fir, and the tenons and pegs were of a hardwood--the tenons certainly and the pegs possibly being of oak.


Slide: the ship, which possibly was about 50 to 60 ft. Long was carrying at least 24 stone anchor.~when she sank. As we will see it was quite a normal practice for ancient and medieval ships to carry large numbers of anchors, for they often broke or lost anchors on a voyage. Most of the anchors--and we see a number of them here lying down at the bow end of the wreck--weighed approximately 600 to 800 lbs--this is just an estimate--with 2 exceptions, they have not yet been raised. Their considerable weight was quite necessary, since they relied solely on weight for their holding power.

Finds suggest that the Kas ship may have been well equipped to defend itself from hostile ships. Several dozen bronze arrowheads and javelin points have already been recovered as well as a total of 5 daggers and 3 short swords good parallels for most of these weapons have been found at various sites along the syrio-palestine coast, but quite interestingly two of the swords, including the one at the top here are definitely of mycenaean design. The syrio-palestinian, that is, canaanite sword at the bottom is a particularly handsome weapon. The handle is inlaid with panels of dark wood and ivory. A reproduction of this sword is presently on display at our local airport.