Friday, September 09, 2005

 

Ancient boat expedition hits trouble

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The Age
September 08, 2005



A bid by an Australian archaeologist and other sailors to recreate an ancient voyage in a traditional reed boat has struck trouble in the Arabian Sea.

Nautical archaeologist Dr Tom Vosmer and seven other sailors had set off from Oman for a two-week voyage in the Magan, a 12-metre-long sailing boat made of reeds, rope and wood, but capsized within hours.

"Water leaked into the Magan causing it to capsize, but a support ship from the Omani royal navy accompanying the boat intervened and rescued the sailors," a source from Oman's culture and national heritage ministry which organised the trip told AFP.

Experts on board the ship are now trying to repair the Magan to enable it to resume its 500-nautical-mile journey, the source said.

The voyage was aimed at reliving a voyage not made for about 5,000 years, when such boats plied the waters between Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula and India.

Magan, named after a civilisation about 5,000 years old believed to have emerged in what is now Oman, sailed from Sur, 300 kilometres south of Muscat, to cross the Arabian Sea to India carrying fish, pottery filled with Omani honey, incense, copper and other traditional foodstuffs and wares.

The sailors, from Australia, Oman, India, Italy and France, were hoping to rely on stars, waves and the colour of the sky and sea to find their way to Mandvi in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

While carrying no engine, Magan is fitted with some radars and safety equipment and was being trailed by a support ship from the Omani royal navy.

Dr Vosmer, formerly of the WA Maritime Museum but who has been living in Oman for several years, was at the forefront of designing and constructing the boat.

He told the Indian Express newspaper last month that the boat was constructed using the same materials employed in the Bronze Age.

These included reeds, bound with rope handmade from date palm fibre. Bitumen, imported from Iraq, was used for water-proofing.

Wooden parts were made from teak, sails were hand-woven from sheep wool and the ropes made from goat hair.

The project began after an Omani-Italian-French archaeological mission discovered about 300 fragments of bitumen during excavations in the early 1990s.

Dr Vosmer was the first to understand the significance of the bitumen fragments, said a report in the Oman Observer.


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