Friday, August 24, 2007


Oldest known ship’s log, Nefertiti’s gold scarab on display in Bodrum


Today's Zaman
August 24, 2007

Hidden away among the vast collections of the Bodrum Castle and Marine Archaeological Museum are countless items recovered from sunken trading vessels that shed new light on the ancient world, among them a gold scarab thought to have belonged to Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.

Director Yaşar Yıldız said the museum, which was founded in 1964, held 15,089 historical artifacts of which 1,432 are on display. The artifacts were recovered from sunken trading vessels discovered by local sponge divers and have been reassembled for display and occupy 14 rooms in St. Peter’s Castle in Bodrum.

“The Glass Wreck Hall, where glass artifacts are displayed chronologically, was opened in 1986 with financial support from the Pasabahçe Bottle and Glass Company. The glass artifacts were recovered from a medieval shipwreck, believed to have set sail around 1025 A.D. from southern Syria in the time of the Fatimid caliphs. Its cargo included three tons of glass cullet in the form of raw glass and broken glassware. These are illuminated in the hall by special light bulbs which make it possible to discern all the traces and colors in the glass pieces. Also, a fish tank has been placed in the wall to illustrate how underwater excavation work is carried out,” said Yıldız.

Also on display is the world’s oldest known shipwreck, discovered in 1982 at Uluburun by a team led by the museum’s then director, Oğuz Alpözen. The ship contained a variety of treasures, including copper ingots, pure tin, exotic wooden logs, hippopotamus ivory and precious gems, Yıldız added that all the artifacts had been recovered between 1984 and 1995. “The Uluburun wreck has been excavated and studied by a number of academic teams, including one led by Dr. Cemal Pulak, which helped to determine the date of the wreck to around the 14th century B.C. The ship’s cargo consisted of copper ingots, a good amount of flat glass cullet and sundry items, which are the oldest finds in our museum,” Yıldız said.

The seas surrounding Yassı Island, near Turgutreis, have been the focus of activity for a team led by Professor George F. Bass of Texas A&M University, who worked on a Roman shipwreck dating back to the fourth or fifth centuries A.D. between 1967 and 1969. Yıldız said: “This excavation, uncovered an intact glass jug along with a great number of amphora. The jug is currently on display in the Glass Wreck Hall.”

“Between the years 1977 and 1979, a team from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology [INA], also under the guidance of Professor Bass, worked in cooperation with our museum to excavate a medieval shipwreck at Serçe Limanı, a natural harbor on the southern coast, at a depth of 32 meters. The ship dated from around 1025 A.D carrying glass cullet to some glass factory in the Byzantine Empire, most probably in either the Crimea or lower Danube region. Only 16 meters long and five meters wide, with two lateen sails, the ship had a flat bottom designed for river navigation and had a cargo capacity of 35 tons. We believe that raisins and sumac were being transported in amphorae on the ship along with the three tons of glass cullet. The Serçe Limanı shipwreck yielded what is presently the most accurately dated single assemblage of Islamic ceramic, metal and glassware in existence. This collection has made a major contribution to the more accurate dating of similar artifacts from other medieval Islamic sites and has revolutionized our views on a major period in Islamic history,” he said.

Nefertiti’s gold scarab

Yıldız stressed that the artifacts found in the Uluburun wreck dated to the period between the 13th and 16th centuries B.C. and were indispensable in the understanding of the late Bronze Age.

“Found at a depth of 45 meters, the Uluburun wreck is amongst the small number of wrecks that have been excavated at this depth. The excavations continued for 11 summers, and our divers made 22,400 dives on the wreck. The treasures found included items never found elsewhere. Seals and gems from Egypt and Canaan, and hippopotamus ivory from Africa make this a particularly unique find. However, the discovery that gave the archaeologists the greatest joy was a solid gold scarab which hieroglyphics indicate was once owned by the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. Scarabs were often carried in those days by sailors as good luck charms. It’s the only scarab belonging to the queen that has survived the millennia.”

Oldest logbook ever found

Yıldız also said that the artifacts found in the ship gave important information about the late Bronze Age. “For us, the most important of these is the oldest logbook in the world. It’s bound in ivory, and we have concluded that it was the captain’s logbook. The log was written on beeswax and the inscriptions have been erased by the water over time. Consequently, we have no information about what the captain of the ship might’ve written in it. But, we guess that he took a note of where cargo was going and to whom,” he ventured.


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