In May and October 2018 and September 2019, underwater excavations were conducted at Ma‘agan Mikhael (License Nos. G-26/2018, G-34/2019; map ref. 191250–320/717890–960; Fig. 1) to document the Maʻagan Mikhael B shipwreck. The excavations, undertaken on behalf of the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa and funded by the Israel Science Foundation, were directed by M. Cohen and M. Creisher, under the guidance of D. Cvikel and with the assistance of L. Ackerstain, M. Bram, L. Ginat and S. Zuckerman (administration), N. Helfman and Y. Batzir (site discovery), A. Yurman and M. Bachar (maritime workshop), A. Yurman (field photography), A. Efremov (studio photography), P. Sibella, L. Levert, A. Castelli and A. Shalom (surveying and drafting), N. Yoselevich (location map), P. Mora (3D documentation), S. Haad (finds drawing), Y. Gorin-Rosen (glass), J. Bijovsky (numismatics), D. Ashkenazi (metallurgy), Y. Goren (petrography), J. Gottlieb and R. Shafir (preservation and restoration), S.W. Manning and B. Lorentzen (dendrochronology), S. Wicha (wood-species identification), A. Rast-Eicher (fibers identification), M. Colombini (caulking material identification) and a team of volunteer divers.
The Maʻagan Mikhael B shipwreck was discovered in 2005 by two Kibbutz Ma‘agan Mikhael members, who spotted frame timbers, pottery and stones during a recreational dive. In May 2015, the discovery was verified by a sub-bottom profiler survey conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Copenhagen. A vessel covered with sand was identified c. 70 m west of the shoreline and c. 3 m below sea level (Fig. 1). This site has been known since 1985, on account of the discovery of the fifth-century CE Ma‘agan Mikhael shipwreck (Linder 2003; Kahanov 2011). In August 2015, a survey was conducted at the site (License No. G-81/2015), and fragments of two different tree species, a piece of rope (length 0.18 m) and a pine cone were collected. The finds were dated by radiocarbon to the seventh–ninth centuries CE, the Late Byzantine or Early Islamic periods in the region (Cvikel, Grøn and Boldreel 2017). This was a period of transition, during which shipbuilding underwent a major transformation, a central theme in ancient seafaring research (Pomey, Kahanov and Rieth 2012).
During 2016 and 2017, the three first excavation seasons were conducted at the site (6 × 23 m), and the ship’s research had begun (length 19.6 m, width 4.9 m; Cohen and Cvikel 2019). The ship was found with its bow oriented eastward. The remains of the well-preserved hull include the keel, endposts (stempost and sternpost), aprons, gripes, framing timbers, hull planks, a central longitudinal timber, stringers, bulkheads and the mast-step assembly (Fig. 2). Wooden finds, food remains, cordage, baskets, animal bones, glassware fragments, stones, coins, potsherds and intact amphorae were documented in situ and raised from the seabed.
The keel (average width 18.1 cm, thickness 22.4 cm) was partially accessible. It consisted of two parts: one, made of firwood (Abies sp.), begins at the ship’s bow in the east, and the other made of sycamore wood (Acer pseudoplatanus), continues west toward the stern.
Both endposts were constructed of an upper and a lower element. Gripes were fixed to their bases, continuing the keel (Steffy 1994:272). Aprons were found juxtaposed to each of the endposts, providing further support to the vessel’s hull (Steffy 1994:267). The sternpost (the western endpost), the bottom part of the stempost (the eastern endpost), the aprons and the gripes are made of walnut wood (Juglans regia), while the upper part of the stempost is made of Aleppo/Brutia pine (Pinus brutia/halepensis).
During the excavations, 56 framing timbers were exposed on the ship’s starboard (south) side and 68 on its port (north) side, comprising at least 30 frame stations (Fig. 3). The sampled framing timbers (average width 13.4 cm, average thickness 13.5 cm) were all made of walnut wood (Juglans regia) apart from two (F96, F121), which were made of holm oak wood (Quercus ilex) and firwood (Abies sp.). Some of the frames were made of thick, partially-worked logs with semicircular cross-sections, while others’ cross-sections are rectangular. The average distance between the framing timbers is 44.4 cm, measured from their upper central parts. Apparently, the pattern of the ship’s frames consists of a floor timber and two overlapping half-frames set side-by-side on the keel but without being attached.
Eighteen hull planks were uncovered on the ship’s starboard side and 11 on the port side, all made of firwood (Abies sp.). The longest measured plank is 1.9 m long, although other, longer planks remain buried beneath the sand. The planks are 8.1–27.0 cm wide (average width 15.6 cm) and 2.0–4.5 cm thick (average thickness 3.1 cm). The hull planks were fit together with a butt joint on the frame to produce a long surface (a strake). Near the two endposts, scorch marks were observed on the planks’ inner surface, possibly indicating a process known as ‘char-bending’ (Greenhill 1957:115; Fig. 4).
Keelsons—central longitudinal reinforcements (length c. 5.00 m, width 0.18 m, average thickness c. 0.25 m)—were found fore and aft. The keelson near the bow was made of fir (Abies sp.), while the one near the stern was made of Aleppo/Brutia pine (Pinus brutia/halepensis). Mortises were recorded on the keelsons’ lower side, which was set on top of the framing timbers.
Stringers (length 5.0 m, average width 18.5 cm, thickness 16.0 cm) with a semicircular cross-section were found along the hull’s entire length. Nine were analyzed and found to be firwood (Abies sp.). Scorch marks were found on the stringers’ outer side. On one stringer, engraved Greek letters and symbols and the word Allah seared into the wood in Arabic were observed; their purpose has not yet been deciphered.
Transverse bulkheads composed of vertical planks (preserved length 60 cm, average width 15 cm, average thickness 3.4 cm) were found jutting out of the sand on the hull’s eastern and western sides. The bulkheads demarcated storage compartments for cargo and additional equipment (Steffy 1994:128). The eastern bulkhead is located 13.8 m from the endpost in the stern, and the western bulkhead is located 5.5 m from it. The planks making up the bulkheads are of Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). Horizontal supporting planks (length 3 m, width 0.19 m, thickness 8 cm) with a semicircular cross-section were attached near the bulkheads’ base.
The mast-step assembly includes the base of the mast itself (length 3.5 m, average width 0.25 m, average thickness 0.19 m), reinforcements on both sides and a transverse support. The mast step and the reinforcements are made of walnut (Juglans regia), and the transverse support is made of fir (Abies sp.). Its eastern end was found wrapped in mat remains, as were the longitudinal reinforcements to which it was attached. The upper part of the mast step has two mortises 65 cm apart: one facing the bow (length 0.27 m, width 8 cm, depth 0.12 m) and the other facing the stern (length 0.37 m, width 10 cm, depth 0.06 m). The latter is larger and inclined westward, probably in order to secure the mast heel. The mast step has a mushroom-shaped cross-section. Its upper part is rounded, while its lower part is shaped like a small leg made to fit into the gap between the two longitudinal reinforcements, onto which it was mounted.
The ship’s components were fastened to each other with square and round cross-sectioned iron nails and bolts. In some places, the round nail-head imprints were noted on the wood (Fig. 5). A thick layer of organic caulking and carpentry tool marks are visible on most wooden components.
The shipwreck yielded some 130 intact clay amphorae and jars and hundreds of sherds of cooking ware (Fig. 6:1), dining ware and jugs. The pottery is dated to the second half of the seventh–early eighth centuries CE. The amphorae were apparently arranged in the ship in two layers, and some were found with their original contents: olives, walnuts, grapes and figs. Amphora types documented include LR1, LR2, LR4, LR5 (small and large versions) and LR13 (Riley 1979, 1981); some of the amphorae and jars bear engraved Arabic inscriptions and Christian symbols (Fig. 6:2).
The shipwreck yielded various organic finds, including ropes, baskets, matting and food remains. The site also yielded metal and wooden finds and clay bricks. Rigging elements, including a masthead, pulley blocks and sail remains, were found between the bow and the mast step amidships (Fig. 7).
The pottery and radiocarbon analyses date the Ma‘agan Mikhael B ship to the Late Byzantine or Early Islamic period. The ship is estimated to have been originally c. 25 m long and c. 7 m wide. The species of wood used for the hull show that it was built in a shipyard located in the eastern Mediterranean. However, the wood may have been imported to the shipyard, which was common practice in antiquity (Meiggs 1982:335–336; Ward 2009). The ship’s cargo of amphorae suggests that it was a merchantman plying the eastern Mediterranean coastline. Since the hull planks provided no evidence for mortise-and-tenon joints, the ship’s construction probably applied the ‘frame-based’ method, in which the ship’s construction begins with the Frames.
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