Introduction & Discovery

Pile of stones that Eshel discovered off the shore. The stones were not typical of the region and caused Eshel to further examine the area.Pile of stones that Eshel discovered off the shore. The stones were not typical of the region and caused Eshel to further examine the area.Ships are unique. A ship is a microcosm of politcal, economic, cultural, and technological activity. Why do we deem the discovery of a ship so significant? Ships serve as a bridge between different cultures and different peoples carrying goods, ideas, and technologies. Understanding 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 study of the structure of ancient ships relied solely on literary descriptions and artistic iconographic representations. However, because of many new finds in nautical excavations, we are now able to handle a ship's hull itself. This allows us to begin to understand the magnitude of the achievements of the ancient shipbuilders.

Such was the case with the Ma'agan Mikhael Ship - a fortuitous discovery catalyzed 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. It was at Ma'agan Mikhael where, three decades earlier, maritime archaeology in Israel was initiated.

Prior to the discovery of the Ma'agan Mickhael, the site served as the training grounds for naval divers joining the Archaeological Undersea Exploration Society of Israel. The trainees spent many hours underwater practicing archaeological search and survey techniques. Despite this, the site had not shown any signs of significant archaeological relics. This all changed in August of 1985, when a member of the Kibbutz, Ami Eshel, returned from a dive along the coast. 70 meters of shore, in a depth of less than 1.5 meters of water, Eshel had discovered a pile of large stones.

Eshel spotted pottery shards and several pieces of wood protruding from the sand. Eshel recognized that the stones were not typical of the region and believed that the pottery was ancient. It quickly became clear that the piece of wood protruding from the sand reached farther down than Eshel could dig with his bare hands. It occurred to Eshel that he may have stumbled upon something extremely significant.

Following customary procedures, he notified a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority of his finds, before contacting Dr. Elisha Linder, the maritime historian/archaeologist who lived 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. The ship was 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, with help from 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 and 12 tons of rocks, mainly Blue Schist and Gabro. There was also a perfectly intact, one-armed wooden anchor with its ropes still attached. This anchor was unique in its style, and had not been actually been used.

View a short video of the excavations of the Ma'agan Mikhael shipwreck

View a short video of the reconstruction of the shipwreck, 2008