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Shipwreck reveals unknown Mediterranean metal trade routes

Map of the Mediterranean showing findspots of copper, lead and tin ingots, as well as main sites mentioned in the text

By Judith Sudilovsky - The Jerusalem Post


It has long been known that the Mediterranean Sea basin during the Late Bronze Age was a pretty busy place, characterized by complex relations amongst kingdoms and diplomatic connections outside of the region, making it a busy marine corridor for trade and gifts amongst the elite and from one ruler or king to another.

Research by Hebrew University professors on lead ingots and stone anchors which were found among shipwrecked cargo off the coast of Israel has now revealed previously unknown elaborate trade links among distant countries. The analysis of these ancient finds sheds light on commercial and diplomatic life in the areas from 3,200 years ago.

The analysis of these ancient finds sheds light on commercial and diplomatic life in the areas from 3,200 years ago.

Especially during the 13th and 14th centuries BCE there was a very elaborate trade system and formal levels of exchanges and gift-giving between the palatial centers all around the Mediterranean, from Babylon, Greece, Anatolia and other areas along the basin.

The terms and conditions of these exchanges were set out in ancient archives found in Ugarit, an ancient port city and economic center in what is today northern Syria.

“These spelled out how these interactions would go on,” said Hebrew University archaeology professor Naama Yahalom-Mack who collaborated with Professor Yigal Erel at HU’s Institute of Earth Sciences to determine the source of four lead ingots among a shipwreck’s cargo found near the port of Caesarea several decades ago.

“But what we know less of is the smaller traders who were taking advantage of this informal trade when there was a really high demand for raw material and prestigious objects. They had smaller boats and were not sent out by a formal king or kingdom.”

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archaeology shipwreck Mediterranean sea Israel

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