Photo Credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
The ship's control room. The jars were fully retrieved from the depths of the sea in a complex operation by Energean.

A ship’s cargo from 3,300—3,400 years ago (14-13th centuries BCE), with hundreds of intact vessels, was found at the incredible depth of 1.8 kilometers on the Mediterranean Sea floor. The cargo was found during a standard survey executed by Energean, a leading E&P natural gas company operating the Karish, Karish North, Katlan, and Tanin offshore fields off Israel’s shore. The contents were positively identified as Late Bronze Age Canaanite storage vessels by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Canaanite jars exposed to daylight after more than 3,300 years. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Jacob Sharvit, Head of the IAA Marine Unit, explains, “The ship seems to have sunk in crisis, either due to a storm or piracy – a well-known occurrence in the Late Bronze Age. This is both the first and the oldest ship found in the Eastern Mediterranean deep sea, 90 kilometers from the nearest shore. It’s a world-class, history-changing discovery, revealing to us as never before the ancient mariners’ navigational skills – capable of traversing the Mediterranean Sea without a line of sight to any coast. From this geographical point, only the horizon is visible all around. To navigate they probably used the celestial bodies, by taking sightings and angles of the sun and star positions.”

A Canaanite jar being retrieved by a robot from a depth of 1.8 km. / Energean

“As part of our ongoing activity to discover and extract natural gas from the deep sea, we conduct surveys that check different parameters, using an advanced submersible robot to scour the seafloor,” says Dr. Karnit Bahartan, Environmental Lead at Energean. “About a year ago, during a survey, we saw the unusual sight of what seemed to be a large pile of jugs heaped on the seafloor. We are in ongoing contact with the Israel Antiquities Authority, and when we sent them the images it turned out to be a sensational discovery, far beyond what we could imagine.”

In light of this discovery’s tremendous importance, Energean rose to the occasion and dedicated a team to work together with IAA experts to closely investigate the ship, using their “Energean Star” ship equipped to conduct deep-sea work. The company’s technicians planned a unique, complex operation and even built a special tool to enable extracting artifacts with minimal risk of damage to the entire assemblage.

A Canaanite jar being retrieved by a robot from a depth of 1.8 km. / Energean

“The robot’s survey and mapping of the site clarified this to be a sunken ship, about 12-14 meters long, that was transporting hundreds of vessels, of which only some are visible today above the ocean floor. The muddy bottom conceals a second layer of vessels, and it seems that wooden beams of the ship are also buried within the mud,” says Sharvit.

In two days of work at sea, the Energean team extracted two vessels, each from a different extremity of the ship, to minimize disturbances to the intact assemblage of the boat and its cargo.

The jars’ retrieval from the water in a special basket. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

“The vessel type identified in the cargo was designed as the most efficient means of transporting relatively cheap and mass-produced products such as oil, wine, and fruits. Finding such a great quantity of amphorae on board a single ship is testimony to significant commercial ties between their country of origin and the ancient Near Eastern lands on the Mediterranean coast”, says Sharvit.

The good ship Energean Star. / Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

He adds: “This is a truly sensational find. Only two other shipwrecks with cargo are known from the Late Bronze Age in the Mediterranean Sea – the boat from Cape Gelidonya and the Uluburun boat; both found off the Turkish coast. Yet both of those shipwrecks were found relatively close to shore and were accessible using normal diving equipment. Based on these two finds the academic assumption until now has been that trade in that time was executed by safely flitting from port to port, hugging the coastline within eye contact. The discovery of this boat now changes our entire understanding of the ancient mariners’ abilities: it is the very first to be found at such a great distance with no line of sight to any landmass. There is tremendous potential here for research: the ship is preserved at such a great depth that time has frozen since the moment of the disaster – its body and contexts have not been disturbed by human hand (divers, fishermen, etc.); nor affected by waves and currents which impact shipwrecks in shallower waters.”

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