A ship’s cargo from more than 3,300 years ago, containing hundreds of intact jars, was discovered at a distance of about 90 km from the northern coast of Israel and at a depth of about 1.8 km at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The dramatic discovery shows for the first time about the impressive navigation abilities of the ancients ‒ those that made it possible to cross the sea without any eye contact with the shore. The ship’s cargo was discovered during an environmental survey of the natural gas production company Energian on the seabed, and was investigated by the Antiquities Authority. Following the discovery, Energian led a unique operation to extract samples of jars from the rare ship’s cargo. The jars will be displayed to the public this summer at the National Archaeological Museum of Israel For Jay and Ginny Schottenstein, which will open for tours for a limited time.

A ship’s cargo from more than 3,300 years ago (13-14 centuries BC), containing hundreds of complete jars, was discovered at a depth of about 1.8 km (!), at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The cargo of the ship was during a routine environmental survey carried out by the natural gas production company Energian, which operates the “Shark”, “Tanin” and “Katlan” gas reservoirs in Israel, identified by the Antiquities Authority as a large cargo of Canaanite storage jars, dating from the Bronze Age. This is the world’s oldest shipwreck discovered in the deep sea.

According to Yaakov Sharvit, director of the Maritime Archaeology Unit at the Antiquities Authority, “It seems that the ship was wrecked as a result of a distress encountered in a sea storm, or perhaps in the event of an encounter with pirates ‒ a phenomenon known from the Bronze Age. This is the first and earliest shipwreck discovered to date in the deep sea in the eastern Mediterranean, at a distance of about 90 km from the coast line. This is a world-class sensation: the discovery shows the impressive navigational abilities of the ancients ‒ the kind that made it possible to cross the Mediterranean Sea without any eye contact with the shore ‒ since from this distance you can only see the horizon line around. Most likely, the navigation was done using the heavenly bodies ‒ with the help of calculating the angles of the sun and the stars.”

“As part of our ongoing activities for the discovery and production of natural gas in the deep sea, we conduct surveys to examine various environmental parameters, using an advanced underwater robot, which surveys the seabed,” says Dr. Karnit Bachartan, head of the environment team at Energian. “In one of the surveys conducted about a year ago, we identified an unusual sight of what seemed to be a large cluster of urns resting on the surface of the bottom. We are in regular contact with the Antiquities Authority, and when we sent them the photos it turned out to be a sensational discovery, more than any of us could have imagined.”

The Antiquities Authority decided to survey the site aboard the ship “Energy Star”, which is equipped with technological means to carry out work at these depths. The company planned a complex and unique work procedure that was managed by experts on its behalf for deep sea activity, and even built the tools that would enable the release of the findings in their entirety with minimal risk to the entire complex.

“From surveying the site and mapping it using the robot, it was clear that it was a shipwreck about 12-14m long, which carried hundreds of jars inside, only some of which were visible on the surface. It seems that a second layer of jars is also buried in the muddy bottom, and apparently parts of the tree trunk of the ship are buried deep in the mud,” says a source. Over the course of two days of sailing, two complete jugs from two points on the cargo side were pulled from the depths for research purposes by Energian’s team of experts in order to reduce as much as possible the disturbance at the site.

“Commercial jugs like those identified in the ship’s cargo, were used as receptacles adapted to shake and transport cheap and large quantities of goods, and usually contained oil, wine and other agricultural products such as fruit. Discoveries of such a large quantity of jars in the cargo of one ship, indicates maritime trade relations in significant quantities from their country of origin, to the countries of the Ancient East on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea,” says Sharvit, and adds: “This is a sensational discovery in the Middle East: only two other shipwrecks from the Bronze Age are known ‒ the Gelidonya and the Uluburun, both discovered near the coast of Turkey. However, in both cases, the ships were found near the coast, at depths that allow observation by instruments. This led to the widespread assumption that the voyage at that time was made from port to port, in a way that allowed eye contact with the shore. The ship that has just been discovered changes the understanding of the way of sailing in the ancient world: so far it is the first that has been discovered at such a great distance, that does not allow any eye contact with the shore. There is a huge potential for research here: the depth at which the ship was discovered is so great, that an assemblage has been preserved here where time froze at the moment of the disaster ‒ a cargo that was not disturbed by human contact (divers, fishermen, etc.) or the activity of waves and currents as happens in shallow waters.”

Shaul Tzemach, CEO of Energian Israel, refers to the company’s decision to carry out such a complex operation in favor of retrieving archaeological finds from the depths of the sea: “The relationship with the Antiquities Authority is an integral part of Energian’s connection to the community and represents our commitment to society and the environment. In this complex task, our teams demonstrated extraordinary professionalism, and we are happy to be partners in a significant discovery of this magnitude.”

According to Eli Escozido, director of the Antiquities Authority, “Given the importance of the discovery, we decided to present the Canaanite jars that were brought out from the depths of the sea and tell the unique story of the ship to the public, as part of the opening of the National Archeology Museum for a soft opening this summer. This will be an opportunity to get a glimpse of the unique structure, the mosaics and laboratories, even before the official opening to the public, which is expected later, in a large and spectacular visitor center. I thank the Energian company for their vigilance in identifying the ancient cargo and for allocating the resources that allowed for initial insights into the rare ship’s cargo.”