x0x Ancient Ship Found Off Turkey
- x0x Ancient Ship Found Off Turkey
The Associated Press, Thu 2 Nov 2000
WASHINGTON (AP) A team led by underwater explorer Robert Ballard has
discovered an ``absolutely astounding'' wooden ship perhaps 1,500 years
old in the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey.
Artifacts recovered nearby that scientists hoped would date back to the
time of the biblical flood turned out to be disappointingly modern. But
the site itself may still show human habitation from that ancient date.
``What we saw was absolutely astounding,'' said nautical archaeologist
Cheryl Ward. The ship's mast is still standing and stanchions rest nearby,
held together with wooden pegs.
``No archaeologist has even been able to study anything like this,'' she
said in a news conference at the National Geographic Society. ``We have
never been able to look at the deck of an ancient ship.''
The unique oxygen-free deep water of the Black Sea allowed the ship to be
preserved without the normal worm damage that affects wooden vessels, and
Ballard said they expect other such treasures to be found. The researchers
plan to return to the area near Sinop, Turkey next year and work in the
sea off the coast of Bulgaria.
Dealing with such a well-preserved ship presents a problem, Ballard
said. In the past, shipwrecks of that age had all the wood eaten away and
only the contents remained.
``We don't know what to do'' to study it, he said. ``I think we're still
numb.'' He said a meeting is scheduled for next month to consider how best
to deal with the ship.
When the ship was first seen the team thought it was modern because it was
so well preserved. But carbon dating of wood from the ship showed the
vessel to be about 1,500 years old, dating from between A.D. 410 and 520.
``This is a ship carved by hand 1,500 years ago, so beautifully preserved
it looks as if it had just got off the dock,'' Ward said.
The vessel measures about 45 feet in length and has a 35-foot-tall
standing mast, she said. It was found in about 650 feet of water.
``This ship came from a time of custom-built ships, when you went to a
shipwright and told him what kind of ship you needed and how large.''
Ships in those times were built skin first, with the outside structure
crafted before the inside was filled in. ``It's the complete opposite of
how we do it today,'' Ward said.
Sediment covered much of the ship and no cargo was visible.
Ballard's team last month reported discovering what appears to be a
man-made building foundation beneath the sea not far from the
shipwreck. It is located in an area that was inundated by a cataclysmic
flood 7,600 years ago perhaps the great flood told of in the Bible and
other ancient writings.
But wooden artifacts recovered from that site turned out to be only about
200 years old, and must have floated to the spot, according to
archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert of the University of Pennsylvania.
Large objects, including wooden logs and stones that looked as if they had
been worked into blocks, could not be raised with the expedition's
``We now need to go back to the Black Sea and expand our efforts to prove
or disprove that people once lived on land that's now underwater,''
He noted that the site is unique and would have been on a bluff,
overlooking a stream before the sea rose. Hiebert said some charcoal had
been found in the mud at the site and there are what seem to be worked
stones there, indicating human habitation.
Ballard, president of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn., said
five to 10 years of work lies ahead for the project while exploring more
and more of the Black Sea.
Unlike other oceans, its deep water does not circulate and thus contains
no oxygen, preserving whatever falls there.
In addition to the preserved ship, three other wrecks were found in
shallower water where there is some oxygen and they had been damaged by
They were trading vessels believed to date from the Roman or Byzantine
period, probably built between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. All
three contained large quantities of terracotta jars that carried wine, oil
or other liquids. The carrot-shaped design of the jars was used by
artisans in ancient Sinop, Ward said.
``Investigating the contents of these shipwrecks could significantly add
to our understanding of the importance of the Black Sea as part of the
Classical world,'' Hiebert said.