Spanish Archaeologists Plot Remarkable Rescue of Ancient Phoenician Ship
A Phoenician trading vessel that sank off the coast of Spain around 2,500 years ago has been rendered in high-resolution 3D maps. As a precursor of plans to rescue the shipwreck, piece-by-piece, in what will be a very complicated underwater puzzle.
The 2,500-year-old Phoenician vessel is submerged 60 meters (196.85 ft) from the Playa de la Isla beach of Mazarrón, a municipality in the southeastern Spanish region of Murcia on the Iberian Peninsula. A team of researchers from the University of Valencia-Institute of Nautical Archaeology recently created 3D maps to better understand the sunken vessel’s condition. Now, they will design a recovery plan to save the ship from a storm that might destroy it forever.
Divers from the University of Valencia mapping the 2,500-year-old Phoenician ship. (Jose A Moya / Regional Government of Murcia)
560 Hours Mapping Ancient Fissures at Phoenician Shipwreck
Before becoming known as Mazarrón, this site was an ancient Phoenician settlement known as Mazar. With its natural harbor, the location attracted maritime trade and cultural exchange. Phoenician ships sailed into Mazar loaded with luxury pottery and metalwork. Over time, the site became an ancient hub of commerce, where goods from distant lands were traded.
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The ship has been named Mazarrón II, after the region it was discovered. A Reuters report described the eight-meter-long (26.25 ft) ship as “a unique piece of ancient maritime engineering.” Archaeologist Carlos de Juan, from the University of Valencia-Institute of Nautical Archaeology, who is in charge of the project, told Reuters that a team of nine technicians from the University of Valencia spent “over 560 hours of scuba diving in June” mapping all of the ship's cracks and fissures.
By mapping the Phoenician ship, archaeologists have been able to come up with a plan to save it. (Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte)
3D Mapping Provides Recovery Plan for Phoenician Ship
Based on their mapping, the team is now constructing a recovery plan which will unfold next summer. The project will be arduous indeed, as the ship will be “extracted piece by piece,” explained an article on Marine Insight. The researchers plan on extracting the sections of the ship using the existing cracks, and after all of the parts are ashore it will be painstakingly reassembled like a puzzle. Carlos de Juan also highlighted that the ship has to be recovered now, to reduce the anxiety that spreads around the university every time “a big storm arrives.”
The ancient trading ship currently lies about 1.7 meters (5.6 ft) deep in the Mediterranean Sea. It was discovered three decades ago, after having lain hidden in deep sediment for more than two millennia. Nevertheless, modern constructions on the shore have affected the way the sea flows around this part of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Mazarrón II is a fragile vessel which is currently surrounded by sandbags and a metal structure that provide protection. However, the ancient hull is sinking into the seabed, fast, and it threatens to crush the protective structure.
Charting the Tracks of Phoenician Maritime Traders
The Phoenicians set sail from coastal areas of present-day Lebanon and Syria, establishing trading outposts and colonies across the Mediterranean between 1,500 BC to 300 BC. Spanish historians speculate that the Phoenician ship was built around 580 BC and was used to ship metals such as lead from the Iberian Peninsula to other trading hubs.
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The two main Phoenician trading hubs in the Mediterranean were Carthage and Tyre. Carthage, located in present-day Tunisia, was a powerful Phoenician city-state and a significant trading center that grew into a major maritime power, controlling vast trade networks and dominating Mediterranean commerce.
Tyre, located in modern-day Lebanon, was another prominent Phoenician trading hub that was renowned for its seafaring and trading capabilities. Traders from Tyre established Phoenician colonies and conducted extensive maritime trade throughout the Mediterranean, including the transportation of valuable goods such as purple dye, timber, and metals.
Top image: Divers at the site of the Phoenician ship. Source: Jose A Moya / Regional Government of Murcia
By Ashley Cowie