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Cape Gelidonya, was the Chelidonian promontory of Pliny in Lycia. In about 1200 B.C., a merchant vessel apparently ripped its bottom open on a pinnacle of rock that nears the surface of the sea just off the northeast side of Devecitasi Adasi, the largest of the islands. Spilling artifacts in a line as she sank, the ship eventually settled with her stern resting on a large boulder 50 meters or so away to the north.

In 1954, Kemal Aras, a sponge diver from Bodrum, stumbled on the wreck’s main concentration of cargo, 26-28 meters deep. He described it to American journalist and amateur archaeologist Peter Throckmorton, who was cataloguing ancient wrecks along the southwest Turkish coast. Throckmorton was able to locate the site in 1959 and, recognizing its great age, asked the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania if it would organize its excavation. In 1960, it was the first shipwreck excavation carried out to completion on the sea bed, the first conducted according to the standards of terrestrial excavation, and the first directed by a diving archaeologist.  That archaeologist was George Bass, then a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hull planks were held together with pegged mortise-and-tenon joints, the method of ship construction used in Greek and Roman times. Furthermore, its brushwood dunnage gave for the first time meaning to the brushwood Odysseus placed in a vessel he had built in the Odyssey.  The bulk of the cargo consisted of the ingredients for making bronze implements, including both scrap bronze tools from Cyprus, intended to be recycled, and ingots of both copper and tin. The discovery on the wreck of a bronze age, stone hammerheads, many stone polishers and a whetstone, and a large, flat close-grained stone that could have served as an anvil suggest that a tinker may have been on the voyage.  The conclusion was that the ship was probably Canaanite, or early Phoenician although  there was the possibility that the ship was Cypriot, because so many Near Eastern artifacts were found on Cyprus from the same period.

Relevant Bibliography

Bass, G. F. Cape Gelidonya: A Bronze Age Shipwreck. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 57 (part 8). Philadelphia, 1967.

Bass, G. F. “Cape Gelidonya and Bronze Age Maritime Trade.” In Orient and Occident, Festschrift Cyprus Gordon, edited by Harry A. Hoffner, pp. 29-38. Kevelaer, 1973.

Bass, G. F. Archaeology Beneath the Sea, pp. l-59. New York, 1975.

Bass, G. F. “Evidence of Trade from Bronze Age Shipwrecks.” In Bronze Age Trade in the Mediterranean, edited by N.H. Gale, pp. 69-82. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology 90, Jonsered, 1991.

Bass, G. F. “Return to Cape Gelidonya.”INA Newsletter 15.2 (June 1988): 2-5.

Hirschfeld, N. “Cape Gelidonya Shipwreck: A Closer Look at the Ceramics.” INA Quarterly 45.3/4:22-27.

Throckmorton, Peter. “Oldest Known Shipwreck Yields Bronze Age Cargo.” National Geographic 121.5 (May 1962): 696-71 l.

Throckmorton, Peter. The Lost Ships: An Adventure in Underwater Archaeology. Boston and Toronto, 1964.

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ABOVE: Peter Durell, George Bass, Peter Throckmorton, and Honor Frost discussing the site at the excavation camp (Photo: INA) Slide # PT-856.