One of the largest surviving cargos ever recovered in the Mediterranean Sea was found on the Late Bronze Age shipwreck known as the Uluburun, which was located off Uluburun (Grand Cape) in southwestern Turkey. From 1984 to 1994, 22,413 dives were conducted, yielding the excavation of several raw materials for trade. Most of these goods had previously only been known from ancient texts or Egyptian tomb paintings before this shipwreck was discovered. Many of the royal gifts stated in the Amarna letters correspond to the cargo.

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Uluburun Shipwreck _©
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Uluburun excavation uncovered ten metric tonnes of copper oxide ingots. _©Cemal Pulak/Texas A&M University

It came out that the pieces that had first drawn the sponge diver’s attention to something on the ocean below were ox-hide copper ingots comparable to those from the Gelidonya wreck. Over 350 copper ingots were found floating on the ocean floor, and as the divers brought them to the surface, they found that they had likely been stored within the ship, where they had been stacked in four rows and arranged in a herringbone pattern.

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Uluburun, one of the oldest and wealthiest shipwrecks ever discovered _©

The ingots had deteriorated so severely that the archaeologists came up with an inventive method to inject new adhesive into them. This glue took almost a year to harden, but once it did, it allowed the ingots to be brought to the surface mostly intact. The wreck site also turned up one tonne of tin ingots in addition to the 10 tonnes of copper ingots, which were once again from Cyprus. It’s interesting that the Uluburun wreck contained those minerals in the precise ratio given that the usual copper-to-tin ratio for making bronze was 10 to 1.

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Large Golden chalice__©

Thus, about half of the ship’s cargo consisted of copper and tin ingots, but the other half is incredibly remarkable. In fact, when the findings from the Uluburun wreck were finally published, they completely altered how archaeologists thought about the Late Bronze Age trade of the eastern Mediterranean. Essentially, it was discovered that the Uluburun ship was transporting items from at least seven different nations, or empires, to distinguish the numerous Bronze Age societies in the Mediterranean region. Whoever claimed ownership of the treasure trove of objects on board lost a considerable sum of money when the ship went down.


A portion of that riches was represented by 200 hundred raw glass ingots, most likely from Mesopotamia. Cobalt blue, softer shades of turquoise, purple, and even some amber hues were visible. These glass ingots, which are thought to be the earliest unbroken raw glass ingots discovered to date, were probably highly costly in their native setting. A tonne of terebinth resin was also present, and it was kept in 150 Canaanite jars, in addition to the glass. The resin may have been poured into the jars’ original wine to stop microbial growth, or it may have been used to make incense. In addition to spices like coriander and sumac, some additional pots also had grapes, pomegranates, and figs

There were twenty Nubian ebony logs here. There was also a great assortment of fresh ceramics from Cyprus and Canaan. Tortoise shells used as soundboxes for musical instruments and ostrich eggshells used as containers were also discovered. Lest you think that’s even close to the end, let me to go right into this list from Cline’s book around 1177 B.C. “Swords and daggers from Italy and Greece, including one with an ebony and ivory inlaid hilt; even a stone sceptre-mace from the Balkans. Scarabs from Egypt and cylinder seals from other parts of the Near East.

Ceremonial scepter -mace _©
Ceremonial scepter -mace _©
The 'ineffective' Canaanite deity recovered from the Uluburun wreck. _©
The ‘ineffective’ Canaanite deity recovered from the Uluburun wreck. _©

A six-inch-tall statue of a Canaanite deity made of bronze with gold overlays did a poor job if it was meant to serve as the ship’s protective deity, according to Cline. It also contained gold jewellery, including pendants, and a gold chalice, as well as duck-shaped ivory cosmetic containers, copper, bronze, and tin bowls and other vessels.

One of the tiniest items found in the Uluburun wreckage turned out to be one of the most significant. The item was an Egyptian scarab, but unlike the ones from the Gelidonya wreck, it wasn’t a replica; rather, it was a real, solid-gold Egyptian scarab. These aren’t particularly uncommon finds to begin with, but the writing on this particular scarab made it incredibly uncommon and helpful in accurately dating the wreck. You see, Akhenaten, the pharaoh who strove to reduce the pantheon of Egyptian deities to just one, Aten, engraved his wife Nefertiti’s cartouche on the scarab.

A depiction in line of the uncovered area of the Uluburun ship, displaying the keel and the mortise-and-tenon joints on the garboard and neighbouring strake_©
A depiction in line of the uncovered area of the Uluburun ship, displaying the keel and the mortise-and-tenon joints on the garboard and neighbouring strake_©

In any case, for only five years did Nefertiti spell her name a certain way before abandoning it as Akhenaten became more serious about his Aten religion. Nefertiti was second only to the pharaoh and may have even served as a co-regent at one point. Since Nefertiti’s name was written in the short-lived form “Nefer-neferu-aten” on the scarab of the Uluburun wreck, archaeologists are certain that the ship could not have gone before Nefertiti assumed power, in the year 1350 BCE. The scarab date, together with dendrochronology on the wooden hull beams, dating of the Mycenaean pottery recovered from the wreck, and even radiocarbon dating on some of the twigs and branches used to line the ship’s deck, all point to a date that is close to 1300 BCE.


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