Tuesday, February 7, 2012

History: Minoan Mariners

Over at the always interesting Nature website Jo Marchant took a good deal of time to discuss in depth the modern race to find Bronze Age shipwrecks. The ongoing search for deep water wreckage that once called the now Greek island of Crete home is fascinating in the extreme. It points up not only the need to find out more about the pre-Hellenic civilization of that island but also the mind-bogglingly high tech ways that marine archaeology is going about the search.

The article focuses on two experts in marine artifact finding, Robert Ballard whose team discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985 and his former graduate student, Brendan Foley. Both men are turning to deeper and deeper wasters, with the help of such futuristic marvels as remote operated vehicles and autonomous diving robots, in the hope of finding several Minoan wrecks and learning more about these amazing deep-sea mariners.

Two decades ago it was a commonly held belief that Minoans in particular and Bronze Age mariners in general hugged the coasts of the Mediterranean and Aegean with their ships. All that changed with the discovery of a wreck now known as the Ulu Burun or Uluburun off the coast of Turkey. The wreck was found some five miles off the coast. Though this is not a tremendous way from shore, the area and situation in which the wreck was found – and the amazing treasure trove she carried – got archaeologists thinking.

The Uluburun was literally packed to the gunnels with wealth from cultures all over the Mediterranean. There were spices, cloth, weapons, ebony and ostrich eggs among other things. A vast horde of jewelry was aboard as well, much of it from the expert goldsmiths of Ancient Egypt. One gold scarab bore the name of Queen Nefertiti. In all eleven different cultures were represented in the cargo aboard Uluburun. You can see some of these beautiful artifacts here.

This may all sound like nothing more than pirate booty – and in fact trawling for artifacts in the Aegean is big business – but there is a deeper significance. Through wrecks like the Uluburun, modern science begins to understand the economies and movements of ancient cultures, shedding light on where we came from. As Foley notes in the piece from Nature, “Ships were the way that people communicated and moved about the ancient world. So if we can find these ancient wrecks, we get a much clearer view of the very dim past.”

As a very wise man once said, history is a vast early warning system and forewarned if forearmed. The more attention we can pay to our rich seafaring history, the better off we will all be.

Header: Minoan vessels at sea; 16th c BCE wall mural from the island of Santorini via Nature.com


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Good points and cool links. "The more we learn the less we know..."

Pauline said...

Boy isn't that the truth? It's like finding out we're all Neanderthals or something...

Mark Noce said...

Rad site, luv the historical detail. I visited Crete myself a little over a year ago and was awestruck by the Minoan architecture.

Pauline said...

Thankee, Mark; much appreciated!

Crete is one of those bucket list "must sees" for me. The Minoan culture has been a fascination since childhood.

Hope to hear from you again sooner than later.