The Discovery of the Kyrenia Ship
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
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
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