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Late Roman Shipwreck on Spanish Chapel
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Just off the west coast of the Bodrum peninsula, southwest of an island called Yassiada, there is a submerged reef appropriately referred to by some as The Ship Trap. About A.D. 626, in the reign of Emperor Heraclius, when the Persians and the Avars were laying siege to Constantinople, the capital of the East Roman Empire, the reef claimed another victim, a small ship bearing in its hold a cargo of nearly a thousand wine amphorae. For more than thirteen centuries the shipwreck lay on the seabed until it was discovered by Kemal Aras, a Turkish diver, who then showed it to Peter Throckmorton, an American photo-journalist and diver in 1958. Throckmorton investigated the wreck and reported:

"We found the area of the cabin-galley, clearly distinguishable because of roof tiles and different types of pottery scattered in a ten-foot area. We brought up samples of every kind of pottery we found: bowls, small jars, and the two types of jars in the main cargo. We were very careful not to disturb the galley area or to dig too deep, because this was a shipwreck of a period never before investigated, the time of the beginning of the Byzantine Empire."

late roman shipwreck 1The shipwreck was excavated in a scientific manner between 1961 and 1964 by a team headed by George Bass, with Oguz Alpozen, the current museum director, joining the team in 1962. The wreck lay on a slope ranging from 32 to 39 meters below the surface and was dated by gold and copper coins found among the artifacts. When closely examined by experts the ship was shown to have been built using the ancient shell-first method below the waterline and the modern frame-first technique above the waterline, with the ship's pine planks fastened to its elm frames by iron spikes. The vessel carried nine iron anchors, two placed on the sides of the bow and seven resting on deck just forward of the mast. It is believed that the ship was steered by sweeps extended on its aft quarters and it probably carried only one sail.

late roman shipwreck 1The exhibit on display today is a replica of the ship's stern section reconstructed with new timber and positioned in such a way as it probably was when it first rested on the bottom after sinking, before breaking up due to the action of its underwater environment. The ship's galley, where nearly all of the personal possessions of those on board were stored, is seen reconstructed in great detail, including an iron grill over a tiled firebox as it was used by the ship's cook. This grill and the iron spikes used for nailing the planking to the frames were all wrought true to their ancient forms by a local blacksmith. The cooking and table ware found in this shipwreck is the largest well-dated collection of ceramics from the seventh century, including the earliest examples of glazed Byzantine pottery. Also found in the galley area were twenty-four terra-cotta oil lamps and several copper vessels as well as the tools of the ship's carpenter. Lead fishing-net sinkers indicate that the crew supplemented their diet by fishing. The artifacts found are displayed in glass cases in the exhibit hall or, like the cargo amphorae, in situ.

The name of Giorgios Presbyteros Naukleros found on one of the ship's steelyards suggests that this presbyter of the church was the owner/merchant and perhaps also the captain of the ship and it is most likely that the complete set of Byzantine weights - one pound, six ounces, three ounces, two ounces and one ounce - was his property. Since the ship sank quite close to the land it is quite possible that those aboard were able to swim ashore and were saved, but their inability to salvage the ship and its cargo has given us the opportunity to extend our knowledge of the east Mediterranean world in the seventh century.

The replica on display was built by graduate students of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology with the assistance and cooperation of the director and staff of the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

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Other Departments:  
Carian Pricess HalllineAmphoras Exhibition lineGlasswreck Hall
Commandant's TowerlineGalley SlaveslineGerman TowerlineSecret MuseumlineEnglish Tower
Uluburun Shipwreck ExhibitionlineTektas ShipwrecklineTurkish Bath line Dungeon

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