Uluburun, Turkey

The Institute of Nautical Archaeology's (INA) shipwreck excavation between 1984 and 1994 at Uluburun, near Kas in southern Turkey, brought to light one of the wealthiest and largest known assemblages of Late Bronze Age items found in the Mediterranean. The shipwreck lay on a steep rocky slope at a depth of 44 to 52 m, with artifacts scattered down to 61 m.

The ship's cargo, perhaps a royal one, comprised mostly raw materials but manufactured goods were also present. The main cargo was approximately 10 tons of what appears to be primarily Cypriot copper in the form of 354 flat, usually four-handled rectangular oxhide ingots, and about 120 discoid "bun," or piano-convex ingots. Also on board was a ton of the earliest securely dated tin ingots in both bun and four-handled oxhide shapes. Dendrochronological dating of a small piece of presumably fresh-cut firewood or dunnage suggests a date of 1306 B.C.E., or sometime shortly thereafter, for the sinking of the ship.

Approximately one ton of terebinth resin carried in most of the nearly 150 Canaanite jars from the site may have been for use as incense. The earliest known intact ingots of glass, some 175 of discoid shape in cobalt blue, turquoise, and a unique lavender example, are likely the materials mentioned in tablets from Ras Shamra/Ugarit and Amarna as items traded from the Syro-Palestinian coast. Also carried on board as raw material were logs of Egyptian ebony (Dalbergia melanoxylon); ostrich eggshells (probably intended for use as containers); elephant tusks, and more than a dozen hippopotamus teeth; opercula from murex seashells (a possible ingredient for incense); and modified tortoise carapaces (almost certainly sound-boxes for stringed musical instruments).

The largest group of manufactured goods on the ship consists of Cypriot fine- and coarseware ceramics. Nine large storage jars contained Cypriot finewares, pomegranates, and possibly olive oil. Four faience drinking cups were crafted as the heads of rams and, in one case, a woman. Poorly preserved bronze and copper caldrons and bowls suggest these must have also been a component of the manufactured part of the cargo.

Canaanite jewelry included bracelets and gold pendants. Scrap gold and silver was also found in some quantity, with Egyptian objects of gold, electrum, silver, and stone among them, including a unique scarab bearing the cartouche of queen Nefertiti. Thousands of beads are of glass, agate, carnelian, quartz, faience, ostrich eggshell, and amber. Other artifacts included two duck-shaped ivory cosmetics containers, a trumpet carved from a hippopotamus incisor into the shape of a ram's horn, and more tin vessels and jewelry than had previously been found throughout the Bronze Age Mediterranean. Bronze tools comprise awls, drills, chisels, axes, adzes, and a saw. Also found were bronze spearheads, arrowheads, daggers, swords, and stone maceheads. Lead net and line sinkers, netting needles for repairing nets, fishhooks, a harpoon, and a bronze trident are evidence of fishing from the ship. There were two wooden writing boards (diptychs), each consisting of a pair of leaves joined with an ivory hinge, and slightly recessed to receive wax writing surfaces. These boards represent by far the earliest examples of their type. A bronze female figurine, partly clad in gold, is similar to those of Syro-Palestinian origin and may have served as the ship's protective deity.

While the majority of personal possessions and shipboard items, such as tools, anchors, and oil lamps, indicate that the ship and its crew were Canaanite or Cypriot, the presence of at least two Mycenaeans on board is revealed by a pair of lentoid seals, a pair of swords, a pair of pectorals with glass relief beads, spearheads, curved knives, razors, chisels, amber beads of Mycenaean types, and more than two dozen pieces of fine- and coarseware pottery. A bronze pin, spearheads, and a stone ceremonial scepter/mace head, with its closest parallel (but of bronze) found in Rumania, suggest connections between the ship, or at least with some of those on board, and lands to the north of mainland Greece.

One of 354 four-handled copper ‘oxhide’  ingots found on the Uluburun shipwreck.(Photo:INA)

Egyptian scarab naming queen Nefertiti.(Photo: INA)

Uluburun promontory as viewed from the south. The wreck site is located directly to the right of the INA research vessel Virazon. (Photo: INA)

Contour map of the site topography.(Drawing: M.Smith)