Archaeologists investigate 2,700-year-old Phoenician cargo
Maritime archaeologists have discovered what may be the oldest shipwreck found thus far in the central Mediterranean—cargo from a Phoenician boat dating to about 700 B.C.E. Diving almost 400 feet down about a mile off the Maltese island of Gozo, the archaeologists found 50 amphorae and 20 lava grinding stones. The exact location of the shipwreck is being kept secret for now while the research is being completed.
“There are two branches of work that need to be done: One is the archaeological side, which is the publication [of the findings],” project codirector Dr. Timmy Gambin of the University of Malta told the Times of Malta. “The other branch is the heritage management side. Decisions need to be taken essentially about how the site is going to be protected and, as importantly—if not more importantly, how we are going to get this site to be enjoyed by the general public.”
From their urban centers along the coast of modern-day Lebanon, the Phoenicians, beginning around 1500 B.C.E., participated in maritime trade throughout the Mediterranean. Their main natural resources were their prized cedar trees and murex shells, from which the famed Tyrian purple dye derived. In the late ninth century, the Phoenicians began to establish trading posts around the Mediterranean, from Cyprus to North Africa to the Balearics.
The Maltese archipelago is conveniently located between two major Phoenician trade routes—to the north is the southern coast of Sicily, and to the south is the North African coast. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Phoenician presence in Malta was widespread by the late eighth century B.C.E.
Seven different types of vessels are represented in the 50 amphorae discovered by Gambin and his team, indicating that the vessels came from different harbors. The researchers believe the ship was sailing between Sicily and Malta when it sank.
The archaeological investigation off the coast of Malta is being conducted by the French National Research Agency’s GROplan Project in collaboration with the University of Malta and Texas A&M University.
The Phoenician Alphabet in Archaeology by Josephine Quinn
This blog post first appeared in Bible History Daily in August, 2014
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