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Nautical Archaeology and Biblical Archaeology

George F. Bass

From the beginning, the relationship between the new field of nautical archaeology and more traditional terrestrial archaeology in biblical lands has been symbiotic. They should not be considered separate fields. Neither can ignore the other in our attempts to learn about the past.

The recent rash of exciting discoveries in biblical waters shows that nautical archaeology, like numismatics, demands specialized training over and above that gained through standard courses in archaeology, history, and languages.

Advantages of Nautical Archaeology

A study of shipwrecks concerns more than just their hulls. Nautical archaeology is an integral part of Near Eastern archaeology, as it is of classical, historical, medieval, and Far Eastern archaeology. It cannot stand alone as a separate branch of archaeology, but when drawing on knowledge gained through traditional terrestrial excavation, nautical archaeologists can provide unique information not found by digging on land.

The Late Bronze Age shipwreck being excavated at Ulu Burun, Turkey, by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A & M University, provides excellent examples of the interplay between finds made on land and those raised from the sea (Bass 1986, 1987; Pulak 1988; Bass, Pulak, Collon, and Weinstein 1989).

It now seems that the ship sank off Ulu Burun during the second half of the fourteenth century BCE or, perhaps, the very early thirteenth century. We have used pottery for this rough dating. Should we, however, find something on the site that provides a more exact date, such as an inscribed tablet, then the situation would be reversed: Because of the large quantity of ceramics from various lands in the closed deposit formed by the wreck, we would be able to date many types of Near Eastern, Cypriot, and Mycenaean pottery more closely than has previously been possible. This, in turn, would help other archaeologists date their strata and tombs on land.*

Another example of how nautical archaeology and traditional Near Eastern archaeology benefit one another is our study of the famous cuneiform tablets found just over a century ago at el-Amarna in Egypt (Moran, Haas, and Wilhelm 1987). Because those tablets give detailed lists of raw and manufactured materials sent from the Syro-Palestinian coast to Egypt, often in the same century in which the Ulu Burun ship sank, we thought that they could reveal something about the nature of the ship’s last voyage.

The Ulu Burun ship’s cargo so closely matches tablet descriptions of royal tribute shipped from Near Eastern rulers to the pharaoh in Egypt that it almost surely was a royal cargo. For example, tablets list shipments of 80, 100, and 200 talents of copper from the King of Alasia. The Ulu Burun ship carried around 200 copper ingots, each weighing about 60 pounds. If the talent equaled around 60 modern pounds, as is believed, it is clear that the Ulu Burun cargo equals the largest royal shipment of copper described in the tablets (if we ignore the listing of a shipment of 500 units of copper in which the unit is probably not a talent but a lesser weight).

Terrestrial finds, in this case, help us toward an understanding of the Ulu Burun ship. The ship, in turn, might help us interpret the Amarna tablets. As large quantities of copper were shipped only from the land called Alasia, at least sometimes and perhaps always on royal Alasian vessels, the Ulu Burun wreck might actually represent a royal vessel of Alasia. A determination of the nationality of the Ulu Burun ship, therefore, would add fuel to the controversy surrounding the identification of Alasia, which most scholars believe was Cyprus.

I am not completely convinced of this identification because the primary evidence for it is the mention in the tablets of the great quantities of copper shipped from Alasia to Egypt and because, in antiquity, Cyprus was the major source of copper in the eastern Mediterranean. It has not been proven, however, that the copper mentioned in the tablets was mined in Alasia—only that the King of Alasia was shipping it. Thus, if the Ulu Burun ship with its cargo of copper proves to be other than Cypriot, the identification of Alasia as Cyprus could be somewhat weakened.

Yet another example of how the Amarna tablets help us understand the Ulu Burun ship, while the ship, in turn, sheds new light on the tablets, is provided by the glass ingots excavated at Ulu Burun. In 1973 Leo Oppenheim suggested that the words mekku and ehlipakku on the tablets mean raw glass. His interpretation was not universally accepted; because neither raw glass nor glass ingots had ever been found on a Bronze Age site, there was no way to prove it one way or the other. Dozens of discoid ingots of cobalt-blue glass have been found stacked on the Ulu Burun ship. While this discovery strengthens Oppenheim’s theory, the tablets tell us that mekku and ehlipakku were shipped from the Near East, especially Tyre, and this, in turn, suggests the source of our ingots, although similar glass has yet to be found on land in the vicinity of Tyre.

Another raw material mentioned in the tablets is ebony, in a description of a shipment from the Egyptian pharaoh to the King of Arzawa, a land somewhere in what is now Turkey. Logs of ebony are also depicted in the fifteenth-century-BCE Tomb of Rekh-mi-rē where they are shown being brought to Egypt, along with elephant tusks, by Nubians (Davies 1943: plate XIX). (Ebony and ivory were similarly traded together by Rhodians to merchants of Tyre; see Ezekiel 27:18.) Was ebony the wood called hbny by the ancient Egyptians? The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (1962) identifies it as “the highly prized core wood of the tree Diospyros ebenum Konig, imported from South India and Ceylon (and perhaps Ethiopia)” and points out its value to Egyptians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans as inlay with ivory. Because African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), the wood from a tree that grows in tropical Africa, was used for furniture found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, A. Lucas (1962: 435) believed it to be that which the Egyptians called ebony, and not the tree growing in India and Sri Lanka that we call ebony today.

The Ulu Burun ship carried logs of a very dark wood resembling ebony. In addition, the hilt of a Canaanite sword on board was inlaid with ivory and this same dark wood. In both cases it was identified, by Donna Christensen of the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, as African blackwood. Lucas was almost certainly right. Once more, cargo from Ulu Burun has provided primary evidence for an exact identification of a raw material.

Drawings in the Tomb of Rekhmi-rē˒ also depict chiefs from the Land of Retnu (North Syria) bearing as tribute copper ingots, elephant tusks, spindle bottles, and Canaanite amphoras (Davies 1943: plates XXIIXXIII)—all items found in the Ulu Burun cargo. Similar items are shown in a painting of the royal storeroom, where the contents of some of the amphoras are identified by means of hieroglyphs. The inscription on one indicates that it contains a material called sntr (Davies 1943: plate XLVIII).

  Sntr, which also appears in Egyptian texts, has been translated by Victor Loret (1949) as terebinth resin, the resin of the Pistacia terebinthus var. Atlantica tree. If this interpretation is correct, we may glean from some of the texts that tons of terebinth resin were imported from the Syro-Palestinian coast to Egypt for ritual fumigation.

During the excavation of the Ulu Burun ship we were puzzled by nearly a hundred Canaanite amphoras that had been filled with some type of resin. Cheryl Haldane guessed that this was terebinth resin because of her identification of Pistacia leaves in the amphoras, but identification of the actual resin was made by John Mills of the National Gallery in London, with refinements by the Hairfields of Mary Baldwin College (Hairfield and Hairfield 1990). The estimated ton of Ulu Burun resin, then, supports Victor Loret’s identification of the Egyptian word sntr as terebinth resin, and Loret’s study, in turn, provides another clue to the intended route of our wrecked ship and the nature of her cargo.

Egyptian tomb paintings further show us the various forms copper ingots took and that copper ingots of the kinds found at Ulu Burun were usually associated with Syrian merchants (Bass 1967: 62–67). Nautical archaeology, in turn, can solve puzzles posed by the same paintings. In one, for example, white ingots are stacked near copper ingots of the same shape (Davies 1943: plate XVIII). Scholars have wondered if the white ingots were lead, silver, electrum, or tin (Bass 1967: 64). The Ulu Burun ship has yielded the earliest known tin ingots, which were shaped just like contemporary copper ingots, suggesting strongly that the royal Egyptian storeroom simply held copper and tin ingots, the two ingredients necessary for making a bronze age.

Copper ingots, painted red or pink, are depicted above scenes of bronze-workers in several tomb paintings (Bass 1967: 65). In another painting of bronze-working, two unique red objects are painted above the bronze-workers (Davies 1943: plate LII). Although N. de G. Davies identified these red objects as a pair of newly cast bronze doors, he questioned their small size and pointed out that solid bronze doors hardly seemed reasonable (1943: 53). New discoveries at Ulu Burun might solve the problem. We have recently found on the wreck a new type of copper ingot that has two handles instead of the usual four; these ingots resemble the theorized bronze doors referred to above. Although we are far from certain, it is possible that these “doors” are simply ingots of the new type.*

Until we have raised and restored whatever of the hull survives at Ulu Burun, we must suppose that the ship looked something like those in the Syrian merchant fleet painted in the fourteenth-century Tomb of Kenamun at Thebes (Davies and Faulkner 1947). The wreck, in turn, tells us something about the painting that we might not have guessed. On the decks of the Syrian ships are large storage jars that one might have assumed held fresh water. We have reamed from the Ulu Burun ship, however, that this was not necessarily the case: At least two of the half-dozen such jars on the wreck held stacks of unused Cypriot export pottery (Bass 1987: 710–11), and another held whole pomegranates. The large jars, then, were the shipping barrels of the Bronze Age.


We have presented a sample of what students of the ancient Near East can learn from a single shipwreck. Other Late Bronze Age wrecks lie along the coast of Israel (Wachsmann and Raveh 1984; Galili, Shmueli, and Artzy 1986). None found so far have been as well preserved as those at Cape Gelidonya or Ulu Burun, but surely they exist in the Levant: When I last visited Lebanon, in 1984, it seemed that the walls of almost every coffee house and restaurant were decorated with Canaanite and Phoenician amphoras that had been pulled from the sea.

(1990). Biblical Archaeologist, 53.

Ships in the Ancient Mediterranean

Steve Vinson

The earliest evidence of travel on the Mediterranean Sea is from

the Mesolithic period, at least 10,000 years ago, when voyagers left the mainland of Greece in watercraft of some kind, traveled to the island of Melos, and returned with obsidian to make sharp-edged implements. Large fish bones, including deep sea fish like tunny, have also been found at Neolithic sites in Greece, further indicating travel on the sea.

Archaeologists have not, however, found actual examples of or depictions of the crafts used by the earliest sailors. Were they reed boats, dugout canoes, skin boats, or simple rafts? Polynesian islanders knew how to make complex planked boats without the use of metal tools, but it is not yet known if that step was taken during the Stone Age in the Mediterranean or at some other time. It is unlikely that the early Mediterranean boats had sails, and they were almost certainly paddled rather than rowed.

Early Shipbuilding

The known history of shipbuilding begins in Egypt around 3500 BCE About that time, in the Predynastic period, Egyptians began painting a peculiar type of boat on finely made pots. These boats, often called sickle-shaped because of their crescent-like form, seem to have been among the earliest wooden boats built with planks. Actual remains of those early boats have not yet been found, but there are a few clues to their construction.*

Planks first appeared in Egypt, usually in graves as parts of primitive coffins or as roofing material, at about the same time the boats were first painted on pottery. The planks were up to 2 inches thick and more than 6 feet long and were usually lashed together with cords of grass or palm fiber. It is likely that the earliest planked boats in Egypt were built in much the same way, with lashings rather than nails.

There is better evidence from a few centuries later. In 1912, several planks that were apparently from boats were discovered in a First Dynasty cemetery in a village near Cairo called Tarkhan. The planks date to around 3000 BCE, only a few years after Egypt was united under the rule of its first pharaoh.

These planks had all the features that were found in intact boats from a few centuries later. The planks were literally sewed to one another by ropes threaded through V-shaped holes cut into the plank faces. In the edges of the planks were mortises, and the boat builder inserted a small, flat piece of wood called a tenon into each of these. A single tenon was inserted into the matching mortises of two adjoining planks, which were set flush against each other to hold them in place while the boat builder sewed them together.

The largest known boats built in this period were about 50 feet long. No boats from this period have been found intact, but several pits that once contained boats have been discovered in royal or noble cemeteries. The best of these was found in the tomb of Den (sometimes called Udimu), the fifth king of the First Egyptian Dynasty.

When it was discovered, Den’s grave contained the remains of a boat, but the remains were in such fragmentary condition that they could not be examined in detail and were eventually lost. The boat seems to have been about 43 feet long, less than 10 feet wide, and no more than 3 feet deep amidships. Walter Emery, the British Egyptologist who discovered the tomb, noted that the boat had a deck and that the wood was covered with white plaster. There was no evidence of a mast or sail, but boat drawings indicate that sails had already been in use for at least a century.

The finest and best preserved ancient boat anywhere belonged to the Egyptian Pharaoh Cheops, for whom the Great Pyramid at Giza was built. It may be seen today in a special museum next to the pyramid of Cheops. (A second boat still lies unexcavated in its pit next to the pyramid.) Like the pyramid, the boat dates to about 2650 BCE, in the period of Egyptian history called the Old Kingdom. It is almost 150 feet long and was built mainly of imported cedar, with its planks held in place by mortise-and-tenon joints and lashing. Its planks are not long strakes running from bow to stem but instead are oddly shaped and fit together almost like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

More than 2,000 years after the Cheops boat was built, the Greek historian Herodotus (see Grene 1987) commented that Egyptian boatbuilders used short lengths of wood to build their boats and that the pattern of the planking was similar to laid bricks. This was necessary because most native Egyptian trees, then as now, do not grow very tall, and long planks could not be made from them. There is a similar pattern in the Cheops boat. It apparently was built by craftsmen who were accustomed to using short pieces of local wood, even though the huge cedars imported from Lebanon or Syria could easily have been cut into long planks.

The Cheops boat has several odd features, however. It was built in the shell-first method, meaning that its planks were lashed together before its ribs, which boatbuilders call frames, were inserted. It had no keel but was built up from a flat bottom of planks. Because it had no keel to stiffen it, two heavy longitudinal beams located at deck level helped prevent the vessel’s bow and stern from drooping. These beams acted much as a bowstring keeps a bow curved. Nevertheless, Egyptian depictions indicate that such heavy beams were often not enough, and a cable that could be continuously tightened ran from bow to stern to keep the ends of a seagoing hull up. The problem of the vessel’s ends drooping is called hogging, and the cable is called a hogging truss.

Advances in Technology

The next major step in Mediterranean shipbuilding was taken no later than the fourteenth century BCE, the middle of the Late Bronze Age. By that time, some shipbuilders ceased using lashings to sew planks to one another and began relying on the mortise-and-tenon joints. It was discovered that simply driving a wooden peg through the tenon on either side of the joint would lock the planks in place, creating an extremely strong joint.

The earliest evidence of such pegged mortise-and-tenon joints was found on a fourteenth-century-BCE shipwreck discovered in 1983 off Ulu Burun on the southwestern coast of Turkey, near the small resort town of Kas. This vessel was built with mortise-and-tenon joints and had a keel. Its construction signaled the arrival of shipbuilding principles that were to prevail in the Eastern Mediterranean until the early Middle Ages.

Interestingly, the earliest examples of this kind of joinery come from Egyptian furniture that was manufactured at about the same time as the Tarkhan boat planks. It is difficult to explain why the early Egyptians didn’t grasp the obvious advantages of using pegged mortise-and-tenon joints in their boats. The lashing method, however, may have made repairs easier or may have enabled the Egyptians to take their boats apart and put them back together with hardly any special tools. Shelley Wachsmann has pointed out that pegged mortise-and-tenon joints were used in furniture at Jericho during the succeeding Middle Bronze Age, suggesting the possibility that similar hull construction began somewhere on the Syro-Canaanite coast.

The Cheops boat had no mast or sail, and no rigging elements of the Kaş shipwreck have yet been found. For now, the only information about rigging during the Bronze Age comes from reliefs, paintings, and boat models. Most of these are Egyptian, although a beautiful Late Bronze Age fresco showing rigging details was found in a house buried beneath volcanic ash at Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini (Thera).

These early representations present essentially the same picture of single square sails, although the proportions of the sails vary. Throughout most of the Bronze Age, the bottoms of the sails were spread by both upper and lower yards. In the absence of pulleys, lines used to raise and/or support these yards were simply looped through rings at the top of the mast.

As mentioned above, ancient Mediterranean boats were built from the outside in. The framing was inserted only after the hull—or most of it—was completed. We know this is true because, in some cases, the frames were not physically attached to the keel, and components of the frames were not even attached to each other; thus, the frames could not have been erected first. In other instances, frames were found directly over the pegs that were driven, in to lock the tenons in place. This shows that the pegs must have been in place before the frames were installed.

This type of shipbuilding is often called Greco-Roman shipbuilding because it was the method used by the classical Greeks and Romans. One of the best examples is a ship dating to the fourth century BCE excavated off the northern coast of Cyprus in 1968 and 1969 by Michael and Susan Katzev. The vessel was raised and its fragments reassembled by J. Richard Steffy in a museum in the Cypriot town of Kyrenia.

The Kyrenia ship was a beamy merchant vessel, of the type the Greeks called a holkas, and was made principally of Aleppo pine. Like almost all ships of her time, she carried a single square sail (representations of two-masted vessels before Roman times are very rare). The wreck featured one of the earliest examples of a block for a pulley. Also found on the ship were numerous small brailing rings, or lead rings sewn into the sail. These guided the lines that ran from the bottom to the top of the sail and over the yard aft and were used to raise, lower, or shape the sail.

The Kyrenia ship’s hull was covered with thin lead sheets tacked over a layer of agave leaves in thick resin. Lead sheathing was common throughout classical antiquity, but in this case the sheets were later additions to the hull and were used as waterproofing and to keep marine worms from boring into the wood.

As a joint project, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) and the Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Traditions commissioned Greek shipwrights to build a replica of the Kyrenia ship using ancient methods. Although the techniques of Greco-Roman construction had been lost for more than a millennium, the shipwrights agreed to try to duplicate them. The resulting ship was strong enough to weather the full gale that she was caught in while sailing from Cyprus to Greece after tracing the vessel’s original route in the opposite direction.

Increases in Dimension

The political and military chaos following Alexander the Great’s death in Babylon in 323 BCE, as Alexander’s generals apportioned the empire, caused warships to be constructed on an unprecedented scale. This activity spilled over into merchant ship construction, particularly with the advent of the Roman Imperial period. The Mediterranean Sea had become a Roman lake, and enormous trade opportunities were available.

Roman ships could be quite large and elaborate. The wine carrier that wrecked at La Madrague de Giens near Toulon, France, had two layers of planking, close-set frames, and was more than 130 feet (40 meters) long. Ships of this size are believed to have been relatively common, though most seagoing craft were from 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters) long.

As for earlier times, art is the principal source of information about Roman sails and rigging. Reliefs, paintings, mosaics, and graffiti show numerous elements, including small steering sails called artemons slung out over the bow, as well as triangular topsails on mainmasts. Fore-and-aft sails appeared in about the second century C.E.

By the time of Jesus, ship construction that utilized pegged mortise-and-tenon joints had reached its zenith. In the early Byzantine period these joints were no longer used to provide most of the strength of a hull and instead served, as they had in Predynastic Egypt, only to align planks. As late as the seventh century C.E., hulls were still built in the shell-first method, but their joints were no longer pegged together, and their principal structural strength came from their internal framing. By the eleventh century, the shell-first method had died out in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the modern era of shipbuilding had been born, as rudimentary pre-erected frames first made their appearance.

(1990). Biblical Archaeologist, 53.

Anchors of Antiquity

Douglas Haldane

Although anchors are mentioned only twice in the Bible (Acts 27:29–30, 40; Hebrews 6:19), there is no doubt that ships and boats of the Old and New Testament periods carried anchors, sometimes in great numbers. For almost as long as ships have sailed, sailors have relied upon anchors to secure their cargoes, ships, and lives. Integral parts of the shipping industry, anchors reveal more than just how and why they were built; they also reveal general trading environments and technological advances of their time. Seemingly insignificant anchors may reflect the historical developments of empires.

Throughout history there have been only three general types of anchors—stone, wood, and iron. Stone anchors, known to Homeric Greeks as eunai, or “beds,” because of their slab-like shape, are either weight or composite anchors. Weight anchors depended on their mass to hold ships, whereas stakes through the lower holes of composite anchors gripped the seabed. Refinements in stone anchor construction included grooves in anchor tops, to reduce anchor line chafing, and notches in a lower corner for attaching buoyed lines to free anchors wedged between rocks.

Honor Frost (1970) used these notches, inscriptions and other archaeological evidence to identify stone anchors by national type. Egyptian stone anchors have been found all along the Levantine coast from Dor/Tantura (Wachsmann and Raveh 1984: 225) to Ugarit (Frost 1969: 245). Byblian anchors are rarely found outside of Byblos, but two were discovered at Ugarit, and a group of 12 was found recently at Newe-Yam, Israel (Galili 1985). Both weight and composite Ugaritic anchors have been found along the Levantine coast, at Thebes in Upper Egypt (McCaslin 1980), Cyprus (Karageorghis 1976: 878), and most recently on the Late Bronze Age shipwreck at Ulu Burun near Kas, Turkey (Pulak 1988a: 33, 1988b: 15).

The similarity between Ugaritic anchors and those found on Cyprus, on land and underwater, suggests that trade relations between the Syrian mainland and Cyprus were so close that the distinguishing anchor features became blurred. Finds of Ugaritic anchors along the Levantine coast, and a possible fragment at Kommos, Crete (Straw and Blitzer 1983: 99), add to a growing body of evidence for a circular trade route in the eastern Mediterranean (Bass 1986:296).

The distribution of stone anchors yields tangible evidence confirming Egyptian tomb reliefs and literature. The Ugaritic anchor at Thebes acts as a calling card left by Syrian merchants portrayed in the fourteenth-century-BCE tomb of Kenamon (Davies and Faulkner 1947). Egyptian anchors found at Dor, one of the Egyptian emissary Wenamun’s stops around 1100 BCE, confirm that the harbor was used as an Egyptian way station on the route to and from Syria. Anchor finds also yield evidence for anchoring practice.

As with later wooden and iron anchors, sailors probably used several stone anchors simultaneously to moor their ships. Scholars have suggested that a ship’s anchor complement consisted of composite anchors, for sandy sea bottoms, and weight anchors for rocky bottoms (Frost 1969:236–37). However, the only two groups of related stone anchors—the 12 found at Newe-Yam (Galili 1985) and the 23 discovered at Ulu Burun—varied in size, not in type; all are weight anchors. The Newe-Yam anchors range from 60 to 155 kilograms (from around 132 to 342 pounds); the Ulu Burun anchors have yet to be raised and studied.

Dramatic changes in stone anchor shape probably occurred toward the end of the seventh century BCE when the Greek word ankura, “bent,” replaced eunai in textual references (Kapitän 1984: 33–36). Almost as proof of their typological predecessors, early wooden anchors used stone stocks—the heavy crossbars that prevented an anchor from lying flat—to force the ends of its arms to dig into the sea bed. Even after lead stocks replaced those of stone, stocks continued to be known as stones (Durrbach and Roussel 1929: text 443, lines 92, 184).

Before the discovery of a wooden anchor and an iron anchor mooring Caligula’s barges at Lake Nemi in the late 1920s, scholars could only speculate about how wooden anchors were built. Since then, four types of stocks used on wooden anchors have been identified: stone (I); wood with lead cores (II); lead (III) occasionally with wood cores (C); and removable lead stocks (IV). Greco-Roman literature and archaeological remains present a clearer image of wooden and iron anchors than for stone anchors.

Greeks called anchors hanging gear, probably because they hung from bows and sterns (Casson 1971: 265), stays (Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, book 3, chapter 99, paragraph d; see Gulick 1927: 428–29), or even hectors (Lucian, Lexiphanes, paragraph 15; see Harmon 1936: 312–13), perhaps alluding to the staying quality of Hector’s courage. Many authors refer to the largest of a ship’s anchor complement as the “sacred anchor,” thrown with the last prayer to the gods to keep the ship off the rocks (Lucian, Zeus Rants, paragraph 51; see Harmon 1960: 164–65).

Roman authors made more specific references to anchors. Arms or even entire anchors were known as “hooks” (Virgil, Aeneid, book 1, line 169; see Lewis 1953). The conical iron or bronze caps that reinforced arm ends were commonly called “teeth” (Livy, book 37, chapter 30, lines 9–10; see Sage 1935: 378–79) because of their tooth-like shape, but Plutarch called them “claws” (Plutarch, Moralia: Bravery of Women, chapter 247, paragraph e; see Babbitt 1961: 500–01).

Archaeological evidence has substantiated literary references that were once thought apocryphal. Pliny credited the anchor’s invention to Eupalamus and the two-armed anchor to Anacharsis (Natural History, book 7, chapter 56, paragraph 209; see Rackham 1942: 646–47). References like Pliny’s, and Strabo’s specific mention of the two-armed anchor (The Geography, book 7, chapter 3, paragraph 9; see Jones 1924: 206–07), were thought strange until a reinforcement collar made especially for a one-armed anchor was found near Brindisi, Italy (Kapitan 1984). A third-century-C.E. Egyptian loan contract also makes mention of a one-armed iron anchor (see Kenyon and Bell 1907, papyrus 1164 (h), volume 3: 49). Evidently Greco-Roman sailors chose from a variety of anchors.

With the discovery of the first Century-C.E. Nemi anchors and a fragmentary anchor on the second-century-BCE Chrètienne ‘C’ wreck (Joncheray 1975a), scholars reamed more about anchor arm construction than Greco-Roman authors could tell them. Arms were fastened to anchor shanks with z-shaped hook joints that were, in turn, secured by mortise-and-tenon joints. Pegs placed perpendicularly through tenons in the lower parts of anchor arms locked the tenons in position. When arm/shank joints loosened with wear, reinforcement collars poured onto anchors held the anchor arms in position (Haldane 1986).

Greco-Roman sailors did not forget the lesson learned from Egyptian stone anchors. Pliny recorded that cork was used on anchor cables (Natural History, book 16, chapter 13, paragraph 34; see Rackham 1945: 410–11) to mark an anchor’s location. These lines, tied to anchor crowns on wooden anchors or crown rings, freed anchors stuck on the sea bed.

But unlike stone anchors, wooden anchors do not readily fit into distinctive cultural subtypes. In general, Greeks used stone-stocked anchors (Type I), whereas Romans used solid lead (Type III) stocks. Types II and IV were transitional. Type II represents a shift from stone to lead stocks, and Type IV represents a more drastic change from wooden anchors to iron anchors. Both transitions were products of historical and technological developments.

Creation of stone stocks often required both a stonemason’s labor and his expertise, but even the most carefully made stocks broke on rocky sea bottoms. Lead-cored wooden stocks were not as fragile, but their number was directly linked to the supply of lead. Lead, a byproduct of silver mining, was dependent on the relative efficiency of silver production. Early silver extraction techniques were so inefficient that the Romans profited by reworking early Greek slag heaps. By the late third century BCE, the Romans gained control of the rich Spanish silver mines. Silver was produced on a grand scale, which caused the price of lead to fall, and Type III solid lead stocks appeared almost simultaneously.

Most Type III stocks have been found in the western Mediterranean, reflecting a predominantly Roman use of this type and the western Mediterranean’s role as the primary Roman trading center. On the other hand, many Type IV removable stocks have been found in the eastern Mediterranean. These stocks, able to be broken down and stored when not in use, belonged to smaller anchors than Type III stocks and suggest the use of smaller ships. The versatility of removable stocked anchors foreshadows a growing dependence on removable-stocked iron anchors.

Herodotus made the earliest recorded reference to iron anchors in the early fifth century BCE (History, book 9, chapter 74; see Godley 1924: 246–47). Wood and iron anchors were used simultaneously at first. Athenaeus mentioned them together on Hieron of Syracuse’s mammoth third-century-BCE ship, the Siracusia (The Deipnosophists, book 5, paragraph 208; see Gulick 1957: 440–41), and, as discovered on several shipwrecks, wood and iron anchors appeared together as late as the first century C.E. As ironworking technology developed in the Mediterranean, however, wooden anchors were used less often.

The first conclusive evidence of manufacturing anchors to predetermined specifications can be seen in iron anchors. Ironworkers inscribed the Nemi iron anchor’s weight in Roman pounds on its shank (Speziale 1931). Ironworkers continually refined anchor forging processes in the Byzantine period. The anchor complement of the seventh-century Yassi Ada Byzantine ship may have ranged from smallest to largest in increments of 50 Roman pounds (Bass and van Doorninck 1982: 134). Anchor forging as well as iron anchor forms show progressive development. The study of anchors provides evidence not only for the anchors and their use on ships but also for perceptions of economic environments in which they were used. Anchors reflect changes in the economic, technological, and social conditions of Mediterranean seafaring nations.

The arms of early iron anchors imitated the sharp V pattern of wooden anchors, such as the fourth-century-BCE Isola di Monte Cristo anchor, but gradually relaxed to the lunate shape of the Nemi iron anchor. Continued arm relaxation from the first to fourth centuries C.E. can be seen in the Dramont D and F anchors. Christianization of the Roman Empire extended to anchors, as seen in the cruciform shape of the seventh-century Yassi Ada anchors. Anchor arm angles relative to shanks grew past cruciform until they reached the Y shape of the eleventh-century Serçe Limani anchors.

Provenance of cruciform and Y-shaped anchors suggests that the center of trade shifted back to the eastern Mediterranean after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Unstable economic and trading conditions in the Mediterranean following the West’s collapse in the fifth century and the Islamic conquest in the seventh century C.E. dictated the use of smaller, faster ships. Deck space was at a premium, and although the Romans had dealt with the lead shortage, bulky wooden anchors were still subject to rot and shipworm damage. Use of durable, removable-stocked iron anchors aboard ships became the rule.

(1990). Biblical Archaeologist, 53.

Shipwreckecked Plant Remains

Cheryl Ward Haldane

By studying shreds and scraps of plant tissues from archaeological investigations, archaeobotanists learn how people used plants in the past. Such remains are usually waterlogged or desiccated by their environment, or are charred by cooking or burning. Although late-nineteenth-century excavations in Egypt and Scandinavia produced sensational finds of ancient plant remains, archaeobotany’s greatest growth came in the 1960s when excavators like Robert Braidwood sought to learn when animals and plants were domesticated in the Near East. Archaeobotanists followed the pioneering example of Hans Helbaek and began to study plant remains to learn about ancient peoples and how they used the world around them.

The introduction of flotation processes to separate charred organic material from dirt was a revolutionary step in archaeobotany. The larger, more varied samples obtained by flotation allow more exact comparisons with modern and ancient ecological and economic systems, ways of manipulating plant products, and patterns of resource exploitation.

In the Near East, charred seeds are the most common plant remains. Agricultural crops such as wheat, barley, peas, lentils, beans, and flax are often present on land sites. On the other hand, only three charred grains have been identified in more than 600 samples from 10 eastern Mediterranean shipwrecks, although a single sample from a Byzantine wreck yielded more than 600 grape seeds. Shipwreck archaeobotany produces abundant remains of fruits, nuts, and spices seldom found on land sites.

Shipwreck Archaeobotany

In the Mediterranean, shipwrecks usually appear as low mounds of shipping jars (amphoras) on the seabed. Waterlogged and charred plant seeds, twigs, leaves, fruits, wood, and other plant tissues, as well as animal and fish bones, insects, dung, and hairs can be found in samples taken from the site, even if the wreck is exposed.

During the first 15 years of scientific exploration, beginning in the 1950s, serendipitous finds of fruit stones and nuts from many Mediterranean shipwrecks suggested the variety of wares transported by sea and the potential value of archaeobotanical analysis of such remains. It was not until the 1970s, however, that archaeologists attempted to systematically retrieve plant tissues that were not part of the hulls of ships. Between 1974 and 1980, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) sponsored four excavations in which archaeobotanical investigation was standard procedure. In each case, the organic samples proved that the shipping jars had carried wine, but traces of previous cargoes and other materials aboard the ship provided us with additional information about the production and exchange of goods.

In 1984, INA began excavation of the Late Bronze Age shipwreck at Ulu Burun, Turkey. George F. Bass, director of the excavation, enthusiastically supported the idea of retrieving every possible bit of organic material from the wreck for study. The dedication of the excavation team resulted in a unique assemblage of plant remains that offers a glimpse into a little-known aspect of ancient life. It is interesting to note that all but two of the plants identified so far are among the relatively few plants named in the Bible, where scarcely more than 100 of the 2,300 plant species found in biblical lands are mentioned (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 1962: 285).

The ship’s cargo mirrored records of royal tribute exchanged by Late Bronze Age Egyptian and Near Eastern rulers and included the most luxurious and expensive items of the time: copper, tin, and glass ingots; gold and silver jewelry; unworked elephant and hippopotamus ivory; Egyptian ebony logs (Dalbergia melanoxylon); and several small and large stirrup jars that archaeologists believe carried perfume (Bass 1986; Pulak 1988).

As excavators raised more than 100 Canaanite shipping jars, we learned that the ship had also carried about half a ton of terebinth resin from Pistacia terebinthus, identified by John Mills of the National Gallery of London and the Hairfields of Mary Baldwin College (Hairfield and Hairfield 1990). The chunks of resin retain their sharp, pungent, turpentine-like odor today. Although the terebinth, or turpentine tree, is mentioned in the Bible (Isaiah 6:13; Hosea 4:13, Revised Standard Version) and other ancient texts, this huge quantity of resin was puzzling at first. But Mycenaean Greek Linear B tablets, Egyptian texts, Classical Greek writings, and modern ethnographic evidence provided the clues we needed to understand why the resin was included with the exotic and valuable goods carried on the ship.

A group of Linear B clay tablets, dating to the end of the Bronze Age, lists the names of plants possibly used in perfumery, cooking, and medicine. Among these names is ki-ta-no, translated by Jose Melena (1976: 180) as terebinth nuts. The word occurs rarely, and the Ulu Burun cargo suggests that terebinth resin, rather than its edible nuts, may have been the intended meaning (Bass 1987).

We know from several classical authors that terebinth resin was highly valued. Accordirig to Theophrastus (Enquiry into Plants 9.2.2; see Hort 1916: 223), “There are also differences in the resin obtained from different trees. The best is that of the terebinth, for it sets firm, is the most fragrant, and has the most delicate smell; but the yield is not abundant.” Dioscorides (De Materia Medica I.71.1–6; see Wellmann 1958: 67–70) describes the preparation of terebinth resin for “good smelling” emollients and perfumed oils and notes that, when boiled, terebinth resin was also valued for coloring perfumed oils. Pliny (Natural History 13.2.7–8; see Rackham 1945: 103) notes that terebinth resin was used in perfumes and acted as an astringent to retain scent.

Theophrastus also provides us with a possible source for the resin: a … Around Syrian Damascus it [the terebinth tree] is abundant, large and beautiful; for they say there is a mountain all full of terebinths, but nothing else grows there.” Modern residents of Syria and Turkey collect the resin and prepare it for sale in bazaars and perfumer’s shops (White house 1957). Although terebinth grows elsewhere around the Mediterranean, only in its eastern areas do winter temperatures drop low enough to cause the tree to produce resin.

If not for perfume manufacturing, the resin lost at Ulu Burun may have been intended to be used as incense. Victor Loret interpreted the Egyptian word sntr as terebinth resin. If he is correct, Egyptian texts refer to thousands of liters of the resin being imported each year to Egypt from the Syro-Palestinian coast to be burned in ritual fumigation (Lores 1949).

Like the terebinth resin, fruits of Coriandrum sativum (coriander) are found on the Ulu Burun wreck and mentioned in Mycenaean Greek Linear B tablets. The distribution of coriander seeds in shipping jars, dunnage samples, and samples from beneath ingots suggests that the seeds were stored in baskets or woven bags which scattered their contents as they decayed. Linear B documents describe up to 720 liters of coriander seed mixed with wine, honey, and other spices in perfumery, and used in smaller amounts as a condiment (Ventris and Chadwick 1956: 221–30). According to Cynthia Shelmerdine (1985), coriander fruits were used to prepare the astringent solution necessary to hold the scent of a perfume with an olive oil base. Melena (1974: 155) has pointed out that coriander fruits were also offered to a local Mycenaean deity. Coriander was regarded by the Mycenaeans as being of Cyprian origin (Ventris and Chadwick 1956: 221), but Melena (1974) has suggested that it was grown on Crete. It is mentioned only twice in the Bible (Exodus 16:31; Numbers 11:7), in both instances simply to compare the appearance of manna to its seed. The value placed on coriander by other ancient societies can be seen in the half-liter of seeds that accompanied the pharaoh Tutankhamun in his golden tomb (Derby, Ghalioungui, and Grivetti 1977: 798).

A third possible source of astringent for ancient perfume manufacture—pomegranate juice—may be seen in the contents of one of seven large storage jars (pithoi) from the Ulu Burun shipwreck. A preliminary sorting of a sample from this 1.4-meter-tall (about 41/2 feet) pithos produced more than 1,000 seeds, flower parts, and fragments of skin from what were once whole pomegranates.

Pomegranates were so valued in antiquity that they were presented as evidence, along with figs and grapes, when the spies sent to Canaan by Moses reported: “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” (Numbers 13:27). Images of the pomegranate used to decorate clothing (Exodus 28:33–34, 39:24–25) and the capitals of the pillars (I Kings 7:18, 20, 42, and others) are further indication of the prominence of this fruit, whose juice was used in a spiced wine (Song of Solomon 8:2).

Although no Linear B word has been translated as pomegranate, the classical writers often refer to its astringent qualities in perfumery and medicine, and to its use as a flavoring for wines as well as its use as an edible fruit and a natural dye.

Pomegranates ripen in late August or September, suggesting that the ship may have sailed late in the season. Until medieval times, sailing in the Mediterranean was restricted to the months between late April and early September because of storms. Although it seems likely that the pomegranates aboard the Ulu Burun ship were fresh, it is possible that the fruits were from the previous autumn. Columella (Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella on Agriculture 5.10.16; see Forster and Heffner 1954: 97) provides instructions for preserving whole pomegranates for more than a year, and modern Turkish villagers store pomegranates year-round using similar methods.

Pomegranates are rarely found in Bronze Age archaeological deposits on land, but there are two charred seeds in samples from the early third millennium BCE at Arad (Hopf 1978: 74); seeds and skin fragments from Bronze Age Jericho (Kenyon 1960: 371,392–393, and plate XVII.4; Hopf 1969: 357) and Twelfth Dynasty Egypt (Derby, Ghalioungui, and Grivetti 1977: 742); waterlogged seeds at Hala Sultan Tekke on Cyprus about 1200 BCE (Hjelmqvist 1979: 112); and in many finds from the seventh century BCE onward.

Pomegranate trees are mentioned in the funerary texts of Tuthmosis I (around 1530 BCE) and appear in tomb paintings of approximately 100 years later. The tomb of Sebkhotep shows two men carrying pomegranates (Davies 1936: plate XLIV): One carries a basket, the other a string of fruits tied together. A painting from the Late Bronze Age tomb of Menna shows two women, one of whom carries a bouquet that includes crimson pomegranate fruits (Davies 1936: plate LII). Sir Arthur J. Evans described ivory pomegranate buds and flowers from the Middle Minoan III period at the palace of Minos on Knossos (1921: 496).

The Ulu Burun shipwreck also yielded a few safflower (Carthamus tinctoria) seeds, several thousand fig seeds, an amphora full of olive stones, and two charred cereal grains: one wheat and one barley. Linear B texts also record these commodities, and all but safflower are mentioned frequently in the Bible. Several shells of almonds, also mentioned many times in the Bible, sumac (Rhus coriaria) fruits, and grape seeds complete the roster of economic plants; about 15 weed species are also represented.*

A puzzling discovery from other shipwrecks are the seeds, leaves and fruits of thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), a spiny, knee-high bush best known for its possible use in the thorny wreath of Jesus. The most reasonable suggestion is that it might have been used as dunnage to create a protective cushion between the hull and its load. The Ulu Burun wreck has strengthened this hypothesis: In addition to providing more samples of seeds, entire plants, from branches to roots, were found on the lower surfaces of some of the approximately 200 four-handled copper ingots in the cargo.

Although the evaluation of samples from Ulu Burun is incomplete, some statistical analyses of about half the samples suggest some patterns in the distribution of plant remains. Of some 20 samples of charcoal, most are from scrubby trees of the family Leguminosae that line the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. The distribution of charred wood on the wreck seems to be fairly limited in area and may indicate a shipboard brazier or hearth. Charred seeds are strictly unrelated to the charcoal samples but can be correlated to the presence of an organic conglomerate of terebinth fruits, chips of resin, twigs, leaves, and mud. This conglomerate, found in about one-third of the shipping jars, may be the remains of a previous terebinth resin or fruit cargo. It is also possible that it represents imploded mud stoppers or caps (Pulak 1988). Interestingly, grape seeds found in the conglomerate are of a strikingly different shape from those found lying loosely in the ship’s bilge area. Because grape seed shape varies with the type of grape grown, these two categories probably have different origins.

As more samples from the Ulu Burun shipwreck are analyzed, the number of plant species found on this ship that once sailed along the Eastern Mediterranean coastline will grow. Simply identifying the species represented is not enough, however, and will serve only to tantalize students of ancient trade in the Mediterranean.

Studying other plant remains in jars that carried the resin may help archaeologists locate the port where the aromatic was loaded as well as learn about how jars were sealed and whether they were reused. Bass suspects that the ship traveled a circular route from the Syro-Palestinian coast to Cyprus and Mycenaean Greece or Crete before returning to the Levant via Egypt (1986: 296). If so, its cargoes of terebinth resin, coriander, and pomegranates may be added to the list of luxury items that indicate an established exchange network with markets demanding large-scale availability.


Underwater archaeobotany provides direct evidence of goods traded by sea and often produces botanical remains of plants unlike those found in charred deposits on land. The Ulu Burun shipwreck samples provide the largest Bronze Age collection of pomegranate, fig, olive, and terebinth remains, and the leaves and twigs in dunnage samples are unique representatives of Bronze Age flora used in this way. Ships, the people who sailed them, and the goods they took from port to port in the ancient Mediterranean were vital links between cultures. By studying organic as well as inorganic remains, we enrich our knowledge of humankind’s past.

(1990). Biblical Archaeologist, 53.