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In Egypt, archaeologists explore the wreck of a 1760 merchant ship

Egyptian underwater archaeologists are excavating an 18th century merchant shipwreck. The vessel sank in the waters of the Red Sea, near Sadana Island, 35km south of Hurghada. According to available information, archaeologists have managed to uncover the bow and the central part of the vessel. The wreck of the merchant ship, measuring about 50 metres
Published: April 27, 2021 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 22:26
In Egypt, archaeologists explore the wreck of a 1760 merchant ship

Egyptian underwater archaeologists are excavating an 18th century merchant shipwreck. The vessel sank in the waters of the Red Sea, near Sadana Island, 35km south of Hurghada.

According to available information, archaeologists have managed to uncover the bow and the central part of the vessel. The wreck of the merchant ship, measuring about 50 metres in length, probably sank in the 1860s. However, it is interesting that its design and construction, thought to be Egyptian or Indian, does not resemble any other known ship of the time.

The wreck under study lies on the side, parallel to the reef and with the bow facing inland. In turn, it is the stern that represents the best preserved section. All because the other sections broke off and slid down the slope, where they were then buried in deep sand.

The work on the wreck was carried out by divers from the Faculty of Arts of Alexandria University under the supervision of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, under the direction of Ihab Fahma of the Central Department of Sunken Antiquities.

Modern technology

The latest exploration 18th century unit is a continuation of a series of excavations that began in 2017. Their aim is to create documentation of the entire hull of the ship, including using photogrammetry. This will create a precise 3D model that will be used for further research, without the need to go underwater.

The wreck itself and its resting place have long been known to archaeologists. However, some of the techniques used to produce the latest documentation are only just coming into general use. Undoubtedly, this includes the above-mentioned photogrammetry. Three-dimensional models created with this technique reflect the underwater site in every detail. This makes them an excellent research material for specialists who do not dive. Working on the surface with the right material, they can make a significant contribution to the survey and identification process.

Previous studies

The originally unusual merchant ship wreck was discovered by a US Naval Archaeology Center expedition led by Dr Cheryl Ward in 1994. It rests at a depth of 28-36m, just off the sandy base of the coral reef. By this time the wreck had already been the target of a number of major excavations. Suffice it to mention that by 1998 alone, archaeologists had conducted some 3,000 dives at the site.

At first it seemed that the ship had been almost completely looted. All because, shortly after it was found, 80% of its cargo was missing. Underwater archaeologists in the 1990s spent most of their time finding and excavating the surviving artefacts to protect them from looting.

A total of over 3,000 items were excavated at the site. Among them Chinese porcelain, clay jars and glass bottles, coffee, Indian spices, fruits, nuts, resins and animal bones. Currently, all the artefacts are being stored by Egyptian authorities in a laboratory in Alexandria.

According to the researchers, the nature of the cargo indicates that the ship was heading north from the Far East when it collided with a steeply sloping reef. Interestingly, before the discovery of this wreck, there was no record of merchants from Asia sailing further up the Red Sea than Jeddah, located on the opposite coast.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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