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New Mazotos finds shed fascinating light on ancient seafaring

A diver recording the amphorae at the Mazotos site


Latest discoveries from the 4th century BC Mazotos shipwreck off Larnaca could be part of a ‘missing link’ in the development of ancient Eastern Mediterranean naval technology after indications were found that both Greek and Phoenician techniques were used simultaneously on board the vessel.

The discovery was made in October, only two days before the end of year’s excavation on the submerged ancient wreck discovered in 2007, which lies at a depth of 45 metres, the antiquities department said on Wednesday.

The season’s excavations themselves were focused on completing the bow area of the ancient ship.

A total of 70 partly or fully preserved Chian amphorae were recovered, which raised the number of amphorae stowed under the foredeck of the ship’s hold to 99.

“Most of these amphorae were most probably carrying wine but at least one was full of olive pits, possibly for consumption by the crew,” the department said. “Also, two fishing weights were found, which offer us a glimpse of the life onboard the merchantmen of the period.”

Underneath the cargo, it added, the wooden hull was poorly preserved, most probably as a result of the wrecking, and the subsequent natural site formation processes at play.

Only two days prior to the end of the season, a much better-preserved part of the hull began to appear, “which is a promising indication that more coherent evidence on shipbuilding technology will be found during the next field season”, it added.

“After careful study of the excavated timbers, however, a very important element of shipbuilding technology has already come to light: both ligatures and mortise-and-tenons were used to join the garboard, the stempost and the keel,” the department said.

“Related with the traditions of two prominent Mediterranean seafaring people, the Greeks and the Phoenicians, these two techniques found in the same ship add an important piece to the puzzle that is the history of classical shipbuilding in the eastern Mediterranean.”

The department said this history has thus far been grounded on only two excavated shipwrecks: the Ma’agan Michael in Israel, dated to the end of the 5th century BC and Cyprus’ Kyrenia shipwreck, dated to the beginning of the 3rd century BC.

“Thus, the Mazotos shipwreck, dated to the 4th century BC, fits right between these two and covers a gap in the development of naval technology in antiquity,” it added.

The research team was comprised of 43 members – archaeologists, divers and students – most of them volunteers from Cyprus and eight different countries: Greece, UK, Spain, USA, Italy, Slovenia, Poland and Germany. The project was funded by the Honor Frost Foundation, Cytavision, the THETIS Foundation and the University of Cyprus.

What makes the discovery of the Mazotos wreck special is its state of preservation, which classifies the site among the rare cases of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

More than 500 amphorae from the Mazotos shipwreck in situ (file photo)

Since being discovered, it has yielded a rich trove of wine amphorae – thought to come from the Greek island of Chios.

Around 500 visible amphorae are scattered over an area of almost flat seabed – remarkably, four layers of the ceramic jugs are preserved in their original stowage position.

Other artefacts include lead stocks, the remains of three anchors, a large number of olive pits and even the keel and structural timbers. Organic materials – such as the remains of the crew, textiles and fittings – have long since disintegrated.


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