The Kyrenia Ship

 

 The Discovery of the Kyrenia Ship
 

anigalley.gif (9168 bytes)This very important wreck was first discovered by a local Cypriot diver Andreas Cariolou in 1965 , lost and then found again in 1967  and subsequently excavated by Michael Katzev under the aegis of the American Institute of Nautical Archaeology. It was reported in the National Geographic in 1974, they interviewed and photographed him and reported it as having first been seen in 1965, then again in 1967.

Andreas saw first a pile of amphora and knew immediately that something was up. An experienced diver in these waters, he had felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck and likened himself to a hedgehog, also a native of Cyprus. Divers were not seen here in those days, Andreas was a fanatic and had tested diving equipment when it first came to Cyprus, he became famous locally , especially with those he frightened when he rose out of the sea like a horned sea monster, he said himself that he 'dodged a good many rocks in those days.'

The Kyrenia seems to be important for three reasons, the first is that we do not have  many pre-Roman ships anywhere, the second reason was that it gave the experts the chance to play with new techniques for excavating and preserving such a fragile object and to date it is the oldest Greek ship ever excavated.

 

The dating of the Kyrenia wreck and it's contents

 

Not only was the ship itself well preserved considering it had been sitting at the bottom of the Mediterranean for around 2000 years (if not longer) but the find also revealed over 400 amphora which were full of almonds. These were useful for radiometric detecting and placed the deduced age at around 212 to 324 BC.

Bronze coins found dated the wreck to at least 345 to 433 BC BC,  but radio carbon dating on the hull pushed the date of building back to around 345 to 433 BC, indicating that the ship could have been nearly 300 years old when she was lost, Wow they don't build them like they used to anymore do they ?

They decided to lift the whole wreck rather than only sections of it.
This was done by systematically tagging all the timbers after drawing, photography and the new technique of stereo photography, and then dismantling them using a delicate sounding piece of kit, a pneumatic saw.

A report on the raising of the Kyrenia ship by  J.S. Illsley

 

Many people are puzzled as to the reason why the wooden ship was so well preserved after lying at the bottom of the sea for more than two thousand years. We all know that sea water is very corrosive to metals, and to furniture in houses by the sea. Actually it is caused by the chemical action produced by bacteria which are far more active on damp objects exposed to the air. Decay does take place deep down in the sea, but at a much slower rate. When the ship was discovered at a depth of 80 ft it was covered with a few inches of sand and shell debris. This constant "rain" of debris goes on in the sea for millions of years. This is how rocks such as limestone are formed - the process of sedimentation. When you look at the limestone cliffs of Kyrenia, which are some 600 inches high, and remember that only two inches of sand and shells covered the ship after 2,200 years, one can begin to understand the differences between historical and geological time. No doubt the thin deposit of sand helped to preserve the wood.

The writer saw some of the timber brought up by the divers during their underwater archaeology and it was as soft as a sponge. If left to dry it would all have disintegrated into powder within a few months. The ship's wooden hull was placed in a huge tank filled with fresh water which was constantly changed, the idea being to remove all the sea water from the wood cells. Then it was dried and injected with a special plastic type of resin, the work taking nearly two years. How long the ship will last like this is not known.

The boat builders of those days knew that iron nails were useless and so copper nails were used for the timbers. Also, as paint was unknown, the timber, which was Aleppo pine, was sheathed with lead. Jars of almonds were among the most interesting finds, and the carbon derived from them was used for radiometric dating of the ship. Small hand flour mills were used as ballast and they are made of volcanic rock, of a type not found in Cyprus, but on the island of Kos in the Aegean. The writer as a geologist, was asked to identify the rock ballast found in the hull and it is likely that the stones came from a nearby beach in Kyrenia.. The underwater work, the piecing together of all the fragments, and the final writing of the report has amounted to many years of work by a group of archaeologists.

Artefacts recovered from the wreck were properly conserved, a notable omission of some of the early excavations, and, where appropriate, concreted materials were dissected by the conservator using a jeweller's saw. Where concretions had formed round ferrous objects such as nails which had subsequently corroded and migrated as oxides into the concretion it was possible to use the carefully opened concretion as a mould from which latex rubber copies of the original ferrous materials could be made. In this way it was possible to reconstruct nails and other artefacts

The survey was conducted in a number of stages starting with a predisturbance survey using standard grids. The site was then surveyed with a metal detector and a proton magnetometer which revealed concentrations of metal, especially ferrous metals. The cargo consisted of amphorae many of which were found to be coated on the inside with resin to seal the porosity of the earthenware vessel so that it was suitable for wine carrying. Others contained the remains of a cargo of almonds. In addition to the cargo of amphora's the bottom level of cargo consisted of a number of random sized querns, some broken, which were possibly being carried as ballast. The distribution of the artefacts on the wreck site was studied in great detail. After sinking the ship had settled on her keel and listed over to her port side forming a classic deposition mound in which the port side and part of the starboard side was trapped and preserved under the cargo. The keel then fractured and the starboard side broke away and was lost. Domestic pottery was found in the bow area, probably the crews quarters. There were four sets domestic utensils were found, indicating a crew of four, including plates, bowls, ladles, sieves, a copper cauldron, four cups, for salt dishes, four oil jugs and four wooden spoon.

Notwithstanding the deposition formation a substantial part of the original hull survived, more than in any other wreck site from the ancient world. The hull was edge joined and carvel built with mortise and tenons set at close intervals of 12.3cm. The outer hull was reinforced by a number of whales with nine strakes between the keel and the first whale.

Altogether fifty frames survived set very closely at an average of 10-15cms from edge to edge. The frames were fastened with treenails driven through pre drilled holes in the shell and through nailed with copper nails which were then clenched over the upper surface of the frame. The technique of nailing through treenails was widely used in ancient craft in the Mediterranean. It served two functions. Firstly it ensured a tighter compressed fit between the treenail and its seating hole. Secondly it avoided the damage which would have been caused to the hull and frames if nails had been used as the only method of fastening. Nails driven directly through the hull planking and into the frames could be expected to work as the ship hull flexed and thus wear away the wood around the nail. Damage caused by friction between metal nails and the hull frame interfaces could be further compounded by electrolytic reactions between the metal and some woods leading to wood rot. By driving the nail through a treenail the shipwright ensured that in the event of erosion of electrolytic rot the treenail and metal nail could be withdrawn from the hull without damage the hull itself or the frames which would be much more difficult to repair. The hull was lead sheathed and spare lead rolls were found on the site, although the ship had one skin of planking. The mast step survived. Because of its general design and lightness of construction it has been suggested that the vessel was fore and aft rigged, but there is no iconographic evidence for the use of such rigs in the C4-C3rd BC. Lead rings were found which probably for brailing lines normally found on square sails, and the remains of rigging include a pulley block

 

An important archaeological find

 

We know that Mr Cariolou found the wreck the first time in 1965 and then spent the next couple of years trying to relocate it. She was laying in 30m of water, he knew that, but which 30m ? At the time he was trying to pinpoint the position a storm was raging.

The Cyprus Department of Antiquities got involved and in turn brought in the American Institute of Nautical Archaeology who acknowledged it as a very important find.


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