Marine Archaeologists Find ‘First of its Kind’ Egyptian Shipwreck That Finally Vindicates Herodotus [New Find]
Marine archaeologists have found an almost intact Ancient Egyptian ship under the waters of the Mediterranean in a sunken port . This is remarkable in itself, but the ship is also the first of its kind to be found. The vessel was only previously known from an account in the Greek historian Herodotus’ work and the discovery of the wreck would indicate that the writer’s work is highly reliable and is more authoritative than previously thought.
The discovery was made by Franck Goddio and a team from the Institut Européen d’Archéologie according to the Oxford School of Archaeology . The discovery of the shipwreck was made in the sunken harbor of Thonis-Heracleion in Abukir Bay not far from Alexandria. Thonis-Heracleion was once one of the most important ports in all of Ancient Egypt until it sunk into the sea after a series of earthquakes and other natural disasters. Archaeologists have made many significant finds in this underwater site.
A Unique Ship
The archaeologists identified, what the Guardian has called a “fabulously preserved wreck”. A team of experts found a large vessel sunk into the silt which had an unusual semi-circular or crescent shaped hull. The construction of the hull and the rest of the ship was radically different from anything else that they had seen. The Guardian reports that the ship was made of “thick planks assembled with tenons”, which are types of joints that are still used to this day.
The vessel is about 75 feet long (28 meters) and its Acacia planks were fitted together with tenon ribs, some of these are 6 feet (2 meter) long. The planks in the hull, which is largely intact, were held together by wooden pegs. The ship was probably a trading vessel that sailed on long-distance journeys and probably played a very important role in the Ancient Egyptian economy . This large vessel was steered by a rudder and a steering oar, which required great skill and it had a single large mast.
An artistic treatment of the discovered new Egyptian shipwreck that marine archaeologists found . The upper half of the model illustrates the wreck as excavated. Below this, unexcavated areas are mirrored to produce a complete vessel outline. (Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation )
The unique characteristics of the find at first perplexed the team, but then they made a connection between the ship and an account by an Ancient Greek historian. The marine archaeologists concluded that they had found a baris, an Egyptian vessel that was described by Herodotus in the 5 th century. Previously there had been no archaeological evidence of the existence of these ships but the discovery at Thonis-Heracleion has changed this.
A Long-Running Controversy
The construction of the baris as described by Herodotus corresponds to the discovery made in Aboukir Bay . Damian Robinson, director of maritime archaeology at Oxford University, stated that the 5 th century Greek “describes the boats as having long internal ribs. Nobody really knew what that meant” until the discovery according to the Guardian. The find in Aboukir Bay means that experts can now fully appreciate the ship building technique described by Herodotus.
For centuries academics had debated what type of ships the Ancient Greek was actually describing. Many even dismissed his account of a baris as pure fabrication or mistaken. The discovery at Thonis-Heracleion demonstrates that Herodotus’ description was very accurate and that the Egyptians had developed a unique style of shipbuilding that was unlike anything else in the Ancient Mediterranean.
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The wooden hull of new Egyptian ship that marine archaeologists found . (Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation )
Herodotus - Father of History
Herodotus (484 BC – 425 BC) was born in Halicarnasus in modern Turkey. He is famous for his work the Histories, which are often seen as the first true historical work because they do not refer to the Gods or myths to explain events and phenomenon. He provides us with the most important account of the Graeco-Persian Wars and he also travelled all over the Classical world and visited Ancient Egypt, leaving us detailed and entertaining accounts of what he witnessed. Many have called him the Father of History.
The find of the baris would seem to prove that Herodotus is a reliable historian. In the past many have referred to him not as the Father of History but as the Father of Lies . This is very important because there are few if any other sources for the period which Herodotus studied and recorded.
Herodotus – Father of History discussed the type of ship found by marine archaeologists in his work the ‘Histories’. (janka00simka0 / Public Domain )
The discovery of the baris also allows experts to better understand Ancient Egyptian maritime technology. It can help them to produce models of the ancient vessel and this can provide even more insights. It is expected that Oxford University’s center for maritime archaeology will publish the marine archaeologists’ findings in the coming months.
Top image: An archaeologist inspects the keel of a shipwreck discovered in the waters around the sunken port-city of Thonis-Heracleion where marine archaeologists found new Egyptian ship . Source: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation .
By Ed Whelan