Yaakov Kahanov

Shipwrecks harbor evidence of ancient sophistication

By Bruce Bower

Surprising insights about ancient shipbuilding have floated to the surface from the submerged remnants of two major harbors, one on Israel’s coast and the other bordering Istanbul, Turkey.

Researchers described their finds January 9 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. 

Analyses of salvaged crafts indicate that shipbuilders started making sophisticated frames for their vessels by about 1,500 years ago, 500 years earlier than had been suspected, reported Yaakov Kahanov of the University of Haifa in Israel.

By a few hundred years later, craft constructors had steadily improved hull designs for a diverse collection of ships, says Cemal Pulak of Texas A&M University in College Station.

Frames provided greater structural stability for ships than an earlier hull-building technique that had relied on joining planks with adhesives and fasteners to form a shell. Such vessels date to as early as approximately 2,000 years ago.

Kahanov and his colleagues have documented the existence of frame-based hulls on five shipwrecks, all from the fifth to ninth centuries. Water-logged wood from the vessels was recovered at the now-submerged Mediterranean harbor off the island of Dor in Tantura Lagoon, south of Haifa. Researchers then transported the finds to the University of Haifa for study.