Thursday, September 22, 2011

History: New Finds Tell New Stories

For archaeologists studying maritime history, the lack of extant artifacts can be a massive frustration. Most of what our ancestors’ ships were made of – wood, rope, canvas and so on – was destined to deteriorate and disappear. Although an abundance of ship remains from the early modern era forward do exist, it is a rare thing to find a pre-modern or ancient ship in tact. Besides cargo in the form of things like pottery and metal, one vestige of almost any ship that can be relied on to stand the test of time is its anchor.

Two recent finds in the Middle East have proven that fact once again.

First, off the coast of Israel at the resort town of Bat Yam, lifeguards on the beach found three very old, encrusted anchors submerged in clear, shallow waters not far from where locals and tourists regularly frolic in the Mediterranean. According to this article at English News online, the anchors are similar in shape and size, approximately 300 kg (660 lbs) and 2 meters (6 and a half feet) tall, and between 1,700 and 1,400 years old. The lifeguards reported their find to the Israeli Antiquities Authority who immediately, and no doubt thankfully, recovered them for study. As the article notes, the area is full of ancient artifacts which are often appropriated by those who find them rather than being turned over to authorities.

IAA archaeologist Dror Felner speculated that a port may have existed near modern Bat Yam in Byzantine times, which until now was unknown. He points up another possibility very familiar to sailors: a vessel may have anchored in an uninhabited harbor when faced with dirty weather, hoping to ride out a storm. The fact that the ancient port of Jaffa was not far from the location where the anchors were found certainly makes either theory plausible.

Next, this piece at gives a short but tantalizing summation of an interesting find in the Black Sea. Off the coast of Sozopol, Bulgaria marine archaeologists found “beautifully ornamented” stone anchors. The anchors have two holes which, according to the article, were drilled for the anchor rope and a wooden stick. The importance of the stick is not mentioned but one imagines it was put in place either to catch hold of the sea floor or to aid in retrieving the anchor from the water, or both.

The anchors are 200 kg (440 lbs) and the article says they were:

… used for 150-200-ton ships that transported mainly wheat, but also dried and salted fish, skins, timber and metals from what now is Bulgaria’s coast.

Current speculation about the origin of the anchors is really the interesting part of this story, aside from their design of course. According to the piece the anchors appear to be “Creto-Mycanaean, Phoenician or Carian” and date to between the 15th and 12th centuries BCE. In what seems a significant leap of scholarly faith, the article goes on to say:

The anchors are also said to show that the Trojan war may have started because of excise duties imposed by the Trojans, who took advantage of their control over the Dardanelles – and not because of Helen of Troj [sic].

Who actually posited this theory is not revealed in the article, but it is certainly something for those with an historical appetite to chew on. As so many who study mute testaments to our collective history have imagined about a million little pieces of past lives, if only these anchors could talk.

Header: Black Sea anchor via


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Interesting post... That is quite a leap on the Trojan War thing, though.

Pauline said...

I think there's probably a lot to learn here, but it might be good to take it one step at a time, historically speaking.