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Uluburun Bronze Age Shipwreck

The Bronze Age Shipwreck of Uluburun


Uluburun Shipwreck Reconstruction at the Bochum Museum Exhibition

Uluburun Shipwreck Reconstruction at the Bochum Museum Exhibition

Martin Bahmann

Uluburun is what archaeologist have called the remains of a Late Bronze Age ship, wrecked in the 14th century BC off the coast of Turkey near the modern town of Kas. The ruins are located six miles (10 km) from the coast and 165 feet (50 meters) below current sea level. Archaeologists believe the ship originated in what is today coastal Syria-Palestine, based on the crew's belongings. Some scholars have suggested that the ship may have originated from the Bronze Age port of Ugarit, the largest coastal port in Syria at that time.

Uluburun (not its original name) was a trade ship, carrying both raw materials and finished merchandise. dendrochronology pinpoints the construction date to 1306 BC.

Trading Materials on Uluburun

On board Uluburun when it sank were glass, copper and tin ingots, elephant tusks, Egyptian ebony, hippopotamus teeth, terebinth resin, and ostrich eggs. Artifacts on board are from nearly every Mediterranean civilization of the time, including Canaanite jars and jewelry, Egyptian scarabs and faience, Mycenaean beads, Cypriot pottery, and Mesopotamian shell rings.

Food stuffs on board included olives, almonds, safflower seeds, grapes, figs, pomegranates, wheat and barley.

Raw Glass Ingots

Much recent study has been focused on the 176 raw glass ingots recovered from the shipwreck. These ingots are in a variety of colors including copper and a range of blues from cobalt blue to turquoise. Being evidence of the flourishing late Bronze Age glass trade, the ingots were first considered likely to have been manufactured in Mesopotamia. However, archaeological investigations in the mid-1990s and reported in 2005 revealed a glass making workshop at the New Kingdom site of Piramesses, proof that glass ingots were also being produced in Egypt at the time. Other possible glass making workshops in Egypt include several at Amarna; further glass making is believed to have occurred in Mycenaean culture as well.

Trace element analysis of the ingots was performed and reported on in 2010, along with comparisons to Egyptian and Mesopotamian ingots from archaeological workshops. Although the recipes in these civilizations are similar, there are specific differences, such is the addition of potash or natron, differences which are definable by trace element analysis of the completed ingots. Analysis seems to suggest that the Uluburun ingots originated in Egypt.

Archaeology at Uluburun

A recent study of house mouse bones found on board the wreck supports earlier contentions that one of Uluburun's last stops before sinking was the port city of Ugarit (Minet el Beida) in Syria.

Excavations at the wreck were conducted beginning in 1984 by a research team led by Texas A&M's Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and directed by Cemal Pulak and George F. Bass.


This article is a part of the About.com guide to the Shipwrecks, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

The Uluburun website is excellent.

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