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The Moor Sand site was also investigated by Keith Muckelroy as part of the doctoral research that he was completing at the time of his
death in a diving accident in 1980. Only a small number of artefacts had been found by the end of his last season at the site, but later discoveries showed that he had been right to think that they were part of a larger assemblage located further offshore – in 2004 and 2009 further concentrations of artefacts were found, bringing the total number up to 390. These included tools and blades similar to those from Langdon Bay, but also parts of stranded gold bracelets and a neck torque in gold, and, most importantly, a cache of copper and tin ingots – some 255 whole and part ingots of copper and 31 of tin, altogether weighing about 100 kilograms. These were small ingots, unlike the heavy ‘oxhide' ingots of the east Mediterranean Bronze Age that we will encounter in the next chapter, but they provide an excellent complement to the Langdon Bay assemblage by showing that seaborne trade took place not only in scrap and finished items but also in raw metal transported as ingots.

As well as being a point of landfall for boats coming from Brittany and northern Spain, the coast at Salcombe would have been traversed by vessels bringing metal from Wales and Cornwall. During the middle Bronze Age one of the main sources of copper in north-west Europe was the promontory of the Great Orme in north Wales, where ongoing exploration has revealed more than 8 kilometres of tunnels dating from prehistory – probably the largest mining enterprise anywhere in the world until the last millennium. It seems likely that copper ingots from the Great Orme would have been transported by sea along the coast of Wales, across the Severn Estuary and around south-west England, a voyage that would have required intimate knowledge of tides, currents and winds, and an ability to forecast conditions and seek shelter by drawing up vessels on sheltered foreshores along the way as necessary.

Cornwall may have been the source of much of the tin used in the European Bronze Age, not just in north-west Europe but also in the Mediterranean. The tin trade was described by the fourth-century
Greek explorer Pytheas, whose account of his travels – the earliest known written description of Britain – survives in books by the later Greek writers Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. A fascinating link between prehistory and the present-day is provided by place names recorded by Pytheas, including Kantium, present-day Kent, and Prettanik
, the word for Britain that survives today in the headland of Predannack on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. Unlike the Great Orme, where the prehistoric workings remain intact, Bronze Age tin workings in
Cornwall are difficult to discern archaeologically because much of it involved the ‘streaming' of ore from open watercourses or extraction from shallow workings that have been subsumed by later shafts and levels. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that extraction was on a large scale and that boats frequently took ingots along the coast to the east and across the Channel. They too would have faced perils along the way, including the treacherous rocks off the Lizard Peninsula, but the Dover Boat shows that vessels would have been capable of making the journey to Kent and beyond.

The Langdon Bay and Moor Sand sites were the first wreck cargoes of prehistoric date to be identified outside the Mediterranean. They helped to show that north-west Europe in the Bronze Age was not the backwater that some archaeologists of the Mediterranean had thought, and was instead part of a wide-ranging network of maritime contact and exchange in which local seafarers were able to travel long distances. Ancient accounts of trade with the Cassiterides, the ‘Tin Isles', no longer needed to imply Phoenician or Greek ships off the coast of Cornwall – much of the trade could have been in local hands, carried out by seafarers capable of transporting ingots and metalwork to points of exchange with middlemen or Mediterranean merchants along the coast of present-day France and even as far away as northern Spain.

This viewpoint has also opened up new ways of thinking about the nature of early trade, which traditionally has been seen in terms of commercial exchange involving different ‘nationalities' as revealed in the origins of artefacts. The idea of nationality in European prehistory draws heavily on the classical written sources and our own experience, and may be anachronistic. Instead of standing in front of a map and pointing to the different sources of a cargo as indication of international trade and perhaps the movement of the ship between those places, we might instead focus on the idea of a common maritime culture that bound together those regions – so that instead of debating whether trade in the Bronze Age was in the hands of ‘British' or ‘Continental' seafarers we might see them as part of a unified culture encompassing both sides of the Channel. The social network that provided the basis for trade also brings into play other factors behind the transport of goods, including gift-exchange, dowry and political alliance. As we shall see in examining the earliest shipwrecks of the Mediterranean, these approaches have begun to inform the way that we look at the
earliest civilisations there as well, drawing scholars away from traditional models and towards new interpretations that have a more global perspective – changing the lens from a view dominated by kingdoms and states to one of greater fluidity and integration, in which coastal communities looked out to sea, rather than inland, for their common culture.

The Dover Boat thus provides a marvellous insight into the earliest carpentered boats built for sea voyages and their significance in prehistory, something that was intimately connected with bronze technology – bronze tools had the strength and sharpness necessary for extensive woodworking, and seafaring gave access to the tin and copper ores that were needed to create those tools. At the same time, other types of boats may have been common for inland and estuarine transport, including dugout canoes, rafts made from wood, bundles of reeds and inflated animal skins, and boats made by stretching animal skins over a wooden frame. The umiak of the Inuit, an open boat made from seal and walrus hides, could carry a similar number of people and weight of cargo to the Dover Boat and travel long distances in the Arctic. Several experiments have shown that skin and reed boats could have crossed oceans, including Tim Severin's
voyage, a recreation of a currach that the Irish monk Brendan may have used to cross the Atlantic in the sixth century
, and Thor Heyerdahl's
expeditions, showing that reed boats could have sailed across the Atlantic and the Pacific. Nevertheless, it was the advent of plank-built boats, suitable for repeat voyages with only minor maintenance and repair, that made long-distance seafaring an integral part of the spread of technology and ideas and of day-to-day life for coastal peoples.

Evidence for seafaring before the earliest boat finds comes from the occupation of islands that could only ever have been reached by the sea. Among the most exciting discoveries in archaeology in recent years are stone tools from Crete that have been dated to at least 130,000 years old, more than 100,000 years older than the previous first evidence for humans on the island. Even at the height of the Ice Age with the sea level 150 metres lower than today this would have entailed an open-sea voyage from the nearest island of some 35 kilometres – about the same as the distance across the English Channel at Dover – and even longer voyages from the mainland, whether from Greece, the east Mediterranean or North Africa. On the other side of the world, the
occupation of Australia at least 40,000 years ago shows that a similar length of voyage was undertaken over the Timor Sea from South-east Asia. Both of these movements were part of the spread of anatomically modern humans from East Africa beginning about 250,000 years ago, with the biggest migration – accounting for much of the spread of humans today – being about 50,000 years ago.

Both during and immediately after the Ice Age, which ended about 12,000 years ago, island-hopping and coastal travel led to the rapid spread of people to the far reaches of the world, including migration from the Bering Strait down the western coast of the Americas and successive waves of movement in Europe from the area of modern Turkey that brought with them farming, Indo-European language and metallurgy. Only a few centuries after the Dover Boat, this increasing familiarisation with the sea and seafaring can be seen in the extraordinary cultural efflorescence of the east Mediterranean in the late Bronze Age, the subject of the next chapter.

Royal cargoes at the time of Tutankhamun in the 14th century BC

In the summer of 1984 I travelled to western Turkey to visit one of the most important shipwreck excavations ever undertaken, at a Bronze Age site off a remote rocky headland called Uluburun. I had been invited there by Professor George Bass, who had excavated another Bronze Age wreck more than twenty years earlier and for whom the discovery of the Uluburun wreck – a much richer cargo – had been the realisation of a dream. Shortly before going out to Turkey I learnt that I had been awarded a Research Scholarship to study for a PhD in archaeology at the University of Cambridge. In the interim I had applied for a Travel Scholarship from the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, and when awarded it I was given the widest possible brief – to visit as many archaeological sites as possible over a two-month period in Turkey, something that took me to the furthest reaches of Kurdistan and the former Soviet border, but for which a highlight was my visit to Uluburun.

I took a small fishing boat from Ka
for the journey along the coast to the site. On the way the boatman stopped at a favourite spot to go spear-fishing for lunch. Freediving with him in the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean, I watched him search the crevices along the slope that dropped off in a shimmer of blue to the abyss. The simple equipment that allowed him to snorkel and dive down had only come into widespread use a few decades before, but it seemed a timeless Mediterranean scene, of a solitary fisherman hoping for a catch and above us the boat silhouetted in the sunlight. It was an earlier generation of fishermen – sponge divers using hard-hat gear – who had first reported ancient wrecks in the Aegean, bringing the wealth of artefacts on the seabed to the attention of archaeologists.

Afterwards we rounded the cape and came to the expedition camp, a series of wooden platforms above the wreck site where the team lived and carried out the preliminary conservation of artefacts that
had been raised from the seabed. It was a time of great excitement – gold had been found, gold ‘like I have never seen it before', as one of the team told me. That afternoon I saw many extraordinary artefacts and was able to touch the copper ‘oxhide' ingots that are emblematic of seaborne trade at this period, bringing home the reality of this cargo from the Homeric ‘Age of Heroes' – when weapons fashioned from bronze were almost worth their weight in gold, underpinning the success of some of the most remarkable kingdoms the world has ever known.

I wrote a report on what I had seen for the newsletter of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara and later published a two-page spread on the wreck in the
Illustrated London News
. Fourteen years later, with my PhD completed and working as an academic in England, I was again invited to Turkey to be part of a team planning the excavation of a classical Greek wreck – subject of the next chapter in this book. In the lead-up to that project I dived for several days off the research vessel
, first on a Byzantine wreck of the seventh century
and then on another Bronze Age wreck at a place called
eytan Deresi. By then I had dived on many wrecks in the Mediterranean of Greek and Roman date, but searching the gullies I was thrilled to see a site where huge pottery storage jars had been excavated dating to the seventeenth or sixteenth century
. Later, in the conservation lab in Bodrum Castle, I was able to handle more artefacts that had been raised from the Uluburun wreck, and to spend hours in the museum marvelling at the artefacts that I had first seen at the expedition camp when they were fresh off the seabed.

The Uluburun wreck stands alongside two other milestones in archaeology that shed dazzling light on this period: Heinrich Schliemann's excavations at the Greek citadel of Mycenae in 1876 and Howard Carter's opening of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. The discovery of a gold scarab of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti allows the wreck to be dated to her lifetime or shortly after, possibly to the reign of Tutankhamun – putting the wreck in close proximity to one of the most famous individuals in history, and to a religious revolution in ancient Egypt that may be reflected in the biblical Old Testament. Taken together with the evidence of clay tablets found at Amarna in Egypt and elsewhere in the Near East, these discoveries paint a picture of extraordinary wealth and cultural achievement, an ‘Age of Heroes' in which named individuals populate history as never before – Nefertiti
and the pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamun, the merchants and kings of Ugarit and Cyprus and the warrior-kings of the Achaeans, a term used by the poet Homer in his epics the
and the
for the men and women who dominated the Aegean in the late Bronze Age. It was a world in which commerce and royal exchange went hand in hand, where kings and pharaohs had a close personal interest in trade and where merchants held sway, helping to shape alliances and linking together distant kingdoms and city-states. From the time of its discovery through the immense amount of scholarship that has followed, the investigation of the Uluburun wreck has added greatly to this picture and made the late fourteenth century
one of the most richly represented periods in early history.

In 1954 a sponge diver named Kemal Aras spotted strange-shaped metal slabs on the seabed off Cape Gelidonya, a remote headland in south-west Turkey mid-way between Cyprus and Rhodes. His account is one of the earliest descriptions of a wreck off that coast:

Lying in a hollow of the rocky bottom in a shallow sand bar were six or eight pieces of bronze each one about two metres long by three centimetres square. There are other bronze objects, so old and deformed that you cannot tell what they are. The whole mass is so stuck together that it cannot be moved.

Using hard hat gear supplied with air from manual surface pumps, Greek and Turkish sponge divers had made the first wreck discoveries in the Aegean and east Mediterranean over the preceding century. A wreck of the first century
salvaged in 1900–1 off the island of Antikythera, between Crete and the Greek mainland, produced the famous ‘Antikythera mechanism' – an astronomical calculator – as well as bronze sculpture, and first alerted archaeologists to the potential of wrecks for major new discoveries. In Turkey, word of the Cape Gelidonya discovery reached Peter Throckmorton, an American photojournalist who had been carrying out a survey for wrecks reported by sponge divers off the south-west coast. In 1959 he visited the site with a team of divers, raised two ‘pieces of bronze' – copper ingots – and took them to the Crusader castle at Bodrum, later to be the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. The British ambassador to Turkey recognised the ingots from one he had seen in
the Cyprus Museum, an identification confirmed by the Department of Antiquities in Cyprus. Throckmorton then met the Curator of the Mediterranean section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, Professor Rodney Young, who approached a graduate student in Near Eastern archaeology named George Bass to help formulate a plan to investigate the site.

At the time, the idea that excavation could be carried out scientifically underwater was met with scepticism by many archaeologists. The helmet divers at Antikythera were greatly restricted by their equipment, which prevented them from bending over or applying any finesse to the recovery of artefacts. A crucial problem was that they were directed by archaeologists on the surface who never even saw images of the wreck – the first underwater photos had been taken in the nineteenth century, but waterproof housings and amphibious cameras were only commercialised in the 1950s. The breakthrough that would make diving more accessible came with the perfection of the aqualung by Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan in 1943, leading to widespread exploration off the south coast of France and the first investigations of Roman wrecks found there. Still the problem remained that few archaeologists learnt to dive. The first major wreck excavations, at Le Grand Congloué off Marseille in 1952 and Titan in 1958, were carried out by French navy divers with all the benefits of scuba – freedom to explore untethered, and the ability to excavate with care – but with supervision only from the surface. Philippe Tailliez, commander of the Groupe d'études et de recherches sous-marines of the French Navy and in charge of excavations at Titan, expressed the problem eloquently in his publication on the site. Underwater excavation, he wrote, ‘is a hard task which demands of its participants of all echelons faith, tenacity and courage'. But he also wrote:

If we had been accompanied on the bottom by an archaeologist, he would surely have noted with more care the position of each piece before its raising, and would have gotten imperceptible clues and other information from an examination in place.

With these lessons in mind, George Bass learnt to dive in order to excavate at Cape Gelidonya, and the University Museum agreed to sponsor an excavation. In the summer of 1960, an international team assembled in Turkey that included Bass and Throckmorton, Bass's wife
Ann, British archaeologists Honor Frost and Joan du Plat Taylor and French divers Frédéric Dumas and Claude Duthuit. Over three months they excavated a large part of the wreck, raising artefacts individually and the ‘stuck together' masses seen by Kemal Aras to break apart on the surface, and making detailed plans of the site as they progressed. The team used techniques developed by divers in the 1950s on Roman wrecks off France, including the clearance of sediment using airlift suction dredges powered by pumps on the surface. The depth of the site, 26 to 28 metres, limited work to two dives a day of 40 and 28 minutes in order to avoid decompression sickness, and they also had to confront the practical problems of working in a remote location exposed to the elements – including the arrival of the southerly winds of autumn, an indication of how ships sailing along this coast might have been wrecked had they been caught out late in the season.

Bass made the wreck the subject of his doctoral dissertation, and his publication in 1967 was a turning point in demonstrating that investigation underwater could be carried out to the exacting standards of land archaeology. Most importantly, it allowed wreck evidence to take a central place in the picture of seafaring and trade in the Bronze Age. The main cargo proved to be thirty-four copper ‘oxhide' ingots, so-named because their four-handled shape resembles the flayed hide of an ox. The shape was familiar from Egyptian depictions of men carrying ingots off ships, but ingots had been rare discoveries because raw materials rarely survive archaeologically on land – most would have been converted to manufactured items. In addition to the copper, amounting to about a ton in weight, they found white residue from a smaller number of tin ingots, showing that the ship had carried the key ingredient needed to convert the copper into bronze. The ingots were cushioned by brushwood dunnage, providing a first tantalising link with Homer – in the
when the hero Odysseus built a vessel to leave Calypso's Isle, he ‘fenced in the whole from stem to stern with willow withies to be a defence against the wave, and strewed much brush thereon'.

Lead-isotope analysis of the ingots confirmed that they came from Cyprus, the main source of copper in the east Mediterranean Bronze Age. Other finds included baskets of broken bronze tools, evidently scrap intended to be recast, as well as stone hammer heads, a whetstone and a possible stone anvil, interpreted as the tools of an itinerant metalsmith. Sixty-odd stone balance-pan weights of a Near Eastern
weight standard and other artefacts such as pottery could be attributed to the coastal east Mediterranean – the region encompassing modern Syria, Lebanon and Israel that was the home of the Phoenicians in the early Iron Age, and that archaeologists often term ‘Syro-Palestinian' or ‘Canaanite' after the Old Testament term. The wreck could be dated to about 1200
from pottery and radiocarbon analysis of the dunnage, putting it right at the end of Bronze Age civilisation in the Aegean and east Mediterranean – perhaps only a few years before a cataclysm that swept away those societies and ended the type of transport represented in the cargo.

The Cape Gelidonya excavation left one central question un- answered: how representative was the cargo of trade at the time? Prior to the excavation, the widespread discovery of Mycenaean Greek pottery in sites of the east Mediterranean and Egypt led scholars to suggest that the Mycenaeans controlled seaborne trade in the Late Bronze Age. One of the find spots was the new capital built in the fourteenth century
by the pharaoh Akhenaten at Amarna, where over 2,000 Mycenaean sherds – representing some 600 pots – had been discovered, many of them small jars probably containing a high-quality oil and desired for their shape and decoration as well. Amarna produced another discovery critical to the understanding of seaborne trade – a cache of almost 400 clay tablets that included letters from foreign rulers to the pharaoh, their contents suggesting that royal gift-exchange and tribute might account for much of the movement of raw materials and luxury goods by sea in the Late Bronze Age. If the Cape Gelidonya ship was Cypriot or Syro-Palestinian in origin, and the cargo that of an itinerant metal merchant, then it did not readily fit the model suggested by the Amarna tablets; what was needed was another Bronze Age wreck to broaden the picture.

George Bass directed further ground-breaking excavations off Turkey in the 1960s and 1970s, including fourth- and seventh-century
wrecks at Yassi Ada and an eleventh-century
wreck with a spectacular cargo of glass at Serçe Limani. In 1972 he founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), and from its base at Bodrum annual surveys were carried out in which sponge divers were questioned about wrecks that they may have seen – always with the hope that another Bronze Age site might be found. The breakthrough came in 1982 when a diver named Mehmet Çakir reported seeing ‘metal biscuits
with ears' off the headland of Uluburun, about 65 kilometres from Cape Gelidonya on the south-western tip of Turkey. An inspection by INA in 1983 showed great promise, with oxhide ingots, huge pottery storage jars known as ‘pithoi' and stone anchors visible on a steep slope at 44–52 metres depth, and funding was sought for a full-scale excavation to begin the following year.

BOOK: A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks
9.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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