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ACCIDENTALLY DISCOVERED BY A TURKISH SPONGE DIVER IN 1982, THE REMAINS OF THE 3,300-YEAR-OLD ULUBURUN SHIPWRECK LIE 10KM OFF THE COAST OF SOUTHERN TURKEY.
The ship was carrying over 20 tons of cargo at the time of sinking, including both raw materials and finished goods. Careful mapping of the distribution of objects allowed the excavators to distinguish between the cargo and the crew’s personal belongings. The cargo included items from at least seven different cultures, including Mycenean (Greek), Syro-Palestinian (forerunners of the Phoenicians), Cypriot, Egyptian, Kassite, Assyrian and Nubian.
The main cargo was 10 tons of Cypriot copper in the form of 350 oxhide ingots (‘oxhide’ refers to the shape of the ingots, which had four legs or handles for easy lifting and transportation on horseback). Also on board was a ton of tin ingots of unknown origin. The copper and tin were likely destined to be melded into bronze.
The earliest known intact ingots of glass were present on the ship. There were 175 of them, discoid in shape, with some coloured turquoise and others cobalt blue. There was also a ton of terebinth resin contained in about 150 Canaanite jars. The resin was possibly used for incense, or the jars could have originally contained wine with the resin added to prevent the growth of bacteria.
Among the more exotic objects aboard were ebony logs from Egypt, elephant tusks and hippopotamus teeth (to create ivory inlays), tortoiseshells (to be used as soundboxes for musical instruments such as the lute), ostrich eggshells (for use as containers) and Baltic amber beads from northern Europe.
Amidst the crew’s personal belongings was found a gold scarab bearing the royal cartouche of Nefertiti, wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. It is the only known seal of Nefertiti in existence and is currently exhibited at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Turkey along with other artifacts from the Uluburun shipwreck.
Other cargo included jewellery, weaponry, fishing gear, tools, pottery, zoomorphic weights and traces of food including nuts, figs, olives, grapes, pomegranates, spices and charred grains. A small hinged wooden writing board, known as a diptych, was also found, and could lay claim to be the world’s oldest book except that the wax surface, on which any writing would have been inscribed, has not survived.
The ship itself was 15 metres long and is the earliest known example of a ship constructed using the advanced mortise and tenon technique, where planks were joined by flat tongues of wood inserted into slots cut into the planks