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The 3,600-year-old shipwreck found in the Aegean Sea.

Bronze Age Ship Found in the Mediterranean is World’s Oldest Shipwreck!

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Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a shipwreck loaded with copper ingots in the Aegean Sea that dates back 3,600 years, making it the oldest shipwreck ever found.  It is the most important finding in underwater archaeology in at least the last decade.

According to Anadolu Agency, the discovery was made by a team of experts from the Underwater Research Center of the Akdeniz University (UA) in Turkey.

 It was found in 160 feet (50m) of water off the western coast of Antalya, a well-known tourist centre. The wreck is over 50 feet long (15m) and was made out of wood. Despite its age, much of the ship is still intact and still carries its precious cargo.

A Cargo of Copper

A team of expert divers was assembled and investigated the wreck using the latest technology. They found a massive haul of copper ingots that weighs of 1.5 tons.  According to 9 news, the vessel was  ‘carrying the earliest industrial products in the world’. Copper was very much prized in the Bronze Age and was used to manufacture weapons, jewelry, tools, and many other valuable goods.

The divers and researchers identified the cargo by conducting ‘three-dimensional scans of the shipwreck via sonar surveys, photographic mosaic and photo-scanning’ according to Daily Sabah.

The ingots were removed from the site and examined by the team and these allowed the wreck to be dated.

A preliminary investigation, by Turkish and international experts, has established that the boat dates to approximately 1600 BC.  The Daily Mirror quotes Archaeologist Hakan Oniz as stating "from the typology of the bullion, we determined the shipwreck was one of the merchant vessels of the 16th century BC’’.  More tests such as carbon dating may also be carried out in the future to confirm the dating.

Oldest Shipwreck Ever Found

If dating is confirmed, then the newly-discovered shipwreck will be the oldest sunken ship that has ever been found, and an incredible 1200 years older than the Greek merchant ship found off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast last year, which had been described as the world's oldest known intact shipwreck.

It is also centuries older than the Uluburun shipwreck, which dates to approximately 1400 BC, and is not intact but was the oldest that had been found prior to this new discovery. This sunken ship was also found off the coast of Turkey and many artifacts from the wreck are on display in a museum in Bodrum.

Sudden storms are not uncommon in the Aegean and many ships lay submerged on the seabed. This makes the waters off the Turkish coast so rich in underwater archaeological sites and treasures. There are an estimated 167 underwater sites off the Western coast of Turkey.

Imaging of ROV visiting the previous oldest intact shipwreck known, found at the bottom of the Black Sea. Source: Black Sea Map /EEF Expeditions

Imaging of ROV visiting the previous oldest intact shipwreck known, found at the bottom of the Black Sea. Source: Black Sea Map /EEF Expeditions

Sunk in a Storm

It seems likely that the merchant vessel sunk in a storm and while transporting copper from Cyprus, which was a very important producer of mineral ore in the Bronze Age. It is speculated that the ship was sunk on its way to an unidentified destination on the coast of Turkey.  There is also a theory that it may have been on its ways to the island of Crete which was the home of the great Minoan Civilization.

The exact location of the submerged vessel has not yet been revealed because of fears that it could be looted. A five-year plan to excavate and preserve the site has been announced and more discoveries are expected to be made at the site. It is hoped that any artifacts found will be exhibited at a planned new museum.

The local governor compared the wreck to the site of 'Gobekli Tepe', which is changing our understanding of how societies evolved.  Here the oldest temple yet found is providing clues as to how early societies evolved and the role of religion.  The wreck could provide new insights into the Bronze Age, especially its international trade and relations.

Top image: The 3,600-year-old shipwreck found in the Aegean Sea. Credit: Anadolu Agency

By Ed Whelan



Where did the copper come from? Its possible the Minoans at this time period were mining coper in the northern US, as mines that related that time period, and Minoans have been discovered.

Thank you for your excellent post as you added some salient information to the article.

It is interesting to determine the origin of this copper cargo, as at that time there were not so many sources of copper in Mediterranean (Cyprus and South West Italy are typical examples). Today it is possible to trace the location of the initial production site, as each has a specific signature determined by analysis of the impurities in the metal, There is also a theory that copper mined around lake Michigan in US, was traded thousands of years ago in the Mediterranean.

That would be Noah's Ark, wouldn't it be?

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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