7th-century shipwreck holds Christian and Muslim artifacts

Hyperaxion Aug 10, 2020

Shipwreck found off the coast of Israel broadens our understanding of disputes over territory in the Middle East in the Early Medieval Period.

A ship from the 7th century A.D. wrecked approximately 47 kilometers (30 miles) south of the city of Haifa, Israel, is bringing new information about this historical period in the Middle East.

7th-century shipwreck holds Christian and Muslim artifacts
(Credit: A. Yurman).

Discovered in 2015, the shipwreck began to be studied in 2016 and, in 2020, the findings were published in the journal Near Eastern Archeology.

The vessel is 23 meters long and is located 3 meters deep, but covered by 1.5 meters of sand. “We have not been able to determine with certainty what caused the ship to wreck, but we think it was probably a navigational mistake,” said Deborah Cvikel, the research leader.

By the time the ship sank, the Arabs had conquered most of what is now the Middle East. The 7th century AD marked the beginning of the transition from Christian (via the Byzantine Empire) to Muslim rule.

Archaeologists found inscriptions in Arabic and Greek on wood and ceramics on the ship. There were also Christian and Muslim religious symbols, but experts are not sure which of the two groups was in charge of the vessel or whether both coexisted.

Among the items found on the ship are more than 100 amphorae containing food such as olives, figs, and grapes, as well as bones of several animals, including fish.

“We have not found any human bone, but we assume that because the ship sank so close to the coast, nobody died in the wreckage,” Cvikel said.

Although ceramic items were common at that time, some types found on the vessel are new to researchers. For them, the ship probably made stops in Cyprus, Egypt, and some port in Israel before the accident.

Excavations at the site are still ongoing, and more discoveries are to come. “We still need to uncover the rear part of the ship, where presumably the captain lived,” Cvikel said. According to her, more research is needed on the recently released findings, such as the amphorae, bones, and everyday artifacts found on the vessel.

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