Ships are unique. A ship is a microcosm of political, economic, cultural and technological activity.
Why do we deem the discovery of a ship so significant? It serves as a bridge between different cultures
and peoples carrying goods, ideas and technologies. As the sea is a bridge between cultures, so is the ship
the means of carrying and diffusing that culture. Comprehending the technological achievements embodied
in the building of a ship, its navigation, its method of propulsion, its loading capacity and its constant
confrontation with the elements is a major task. Until very recently, the structure of ancient ships
was a subject relying on literary descriptions and artistic iconographic representations. However, with the
progress of nautical archaeology research, we can now handle a ship's hull itself, enabling us to begin to
understand the magnitude of the achievements of the ancients.
Such was the case with the Ma'agan Mikhael Ship - a fortuitous discovery accompanied by a dramatic
touch of coincidence. The ship was found off the shore of Kibbutz Ma'agan Mikhael, a settlement situated
approximately 30 km south of Haifa on the Israeli coastline, where three decades earlier, maritime archaeology
in Israel was initiated.
Oddly enough, this stretch of sandy sea bottom had not shown any signs of significant archaeological
relics, even though the sea along this stretch of coast had served as the training ground for naval divers
who joined the Archaeological Undersea Exploration Society of Israel and therefore spent many hours underwater
while practicing search and survey techniques for archaeology. In August of 1985, a member of the Kibbutz, Ami Eshel, was returning late one afternoon from a dive along the coast. Some 70 meters offshore, at a depth
of less than 1.5 meters of water, he came across a pile of large stones.
He spotted pottery sherds and several pieces of wood protruding from the sand. The stones
were not typical of the region and the pottery appeared ancient. In
addition, it became immediately clear that the 'finger' of wood protruding from the
sand reached much farther down than he could uncover with his bare hands. Thus
it occurred to him that he may have stumbled upon much more.
Following customary procedures, he notified a representative of the Israel Antiquities
Authority of his finds, and went to find Dr. Elisha Linder, the maritime historian/archaeologist
who lives on the kibbutz. Linder realized that the find was an intact, 2,400-year-old wooden-hulled
merchantman, originally 13.5 meters in length and 4 meters in width, in a remarkable state of preservation.
It was lying perpendicular to the shore where it had, for reasons still unknown, been beached.
The excavation process took place over three seasons, from 1988 to 1989. It was carried out by a team of nautical
archaeologists and technical staff from the Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa, who were joined
by specialists and advisors from Israel and abroad. Jay Rosloff from the U.S.A served as the field director.
A substantial portion of the wooden hull structure survived.
Among the artifacts found aboard were 70 items of ceramic ware, ropes, a lead ingot,
a set of wooden carpenter's tools, 12 tons of rocks, mainly blue schist and Gabro,
and - lying in position in the sandy bottom, although it had not actually been used
- a perfectly intact, one-armed wooden anchor, unique in its style, its ropes still attached.