Spanish Archaeologists Plan Rescue of 2,500-Year-Old Shipwreck

A group of Spanish archaeologists have made detailed diagrams of a 2,500-year-old Phoenician shipwreck to help determine how best to recover it from the sea before a storm destroys it forever. The eight-meter-long Mazarron II, named after the municipality in the southeastern Spanish region of Murcia, where it was found off the coast, is a unique piece of ancient maritime engineering. Nine technicians from the University of Valencia underwent 560 hours of scuba diving over more than two weeks in June to record all the cracks and fissures in the ship, which lies 60 meters from the beach Playa de la Isla.

The dhow, or keelboat, is an extraordinary example of how Phoenician sailors used their knowledge of the oceans to pioneer long-distance trade and exploration. From the coast of modern Lebanon and Syria, the Phoenicians established colonies and trading posts throughout the Mediterranean from around 1,500 Before Christ (BC) to 300 BC.

Their fleets carried honey, olive oil, wine, fish sauce, dyes, spices, and textiles. They were also credited with the development of glass and our alphabet. Although they dominated trade during this period, their culture remains mysterious, and even today, only fragments of the ancient world can be pieced together thanks to excavations and archaeological discoveries.

The Mazarron wreck, discovered in 1994, is among the best-preserved and most important. It is located on the southeastern tip of the island of Gozo, in the Xlendi Bay area, and contains a mixed cargo dating back to the 7th century BC. The cargo consists of stone and ceramic objects, including large jars (called amphorae), the most revealing items to be recovered from this wreck.

Amphorae are shaped like giant jugs and were used as shipping containers to carry goods such as olive oil, wine, fish sauce, and dyes. Their shapes and styles vary widely and can be used to identify the place of origin for the objects they contain. The style of the jars from the Mazarron wreck indicates that they were of Punic or Western Phoenician origin, dating to the fifth and sixth centuries BC.

New findings from the research team led by the University of Valencia Institute of Nautical Archaeology suggest that the cargo of the Mazarron ship originated in the area around present-day Tunisia. This is confirmed by the distribution of major and trace elements in flat Archaic querns from the Xlendi site, which show similarity with the petrographic texture and geochemical composition of millstones found in the Pantellerian basaltic lava from Pantelleria.

A metal structure protects the show, but its stability in the water is still fragile, and it could be damaged by a storm or the shifting seabed caused by the regeneration of nearby beaches and construction works. A group of experts will recommend how to protect and retrieve the vessel this summer, perhaps as early as next year.

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