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Well, sort, of, perhaps

Well-Preserved Bronze Age Shipwreck ‘Changes Our Entire Understanding’ of Ancient Mariners
The vessel was found far from land, challenging previous assumptions about the seafaring capabilities of its Bronze Age builders.

Finding the failures isn’t a wholly accurate guide to what worked……

21 thoughts on “Well, sort, of, perhaps”

  1. Rather like that fellow in WW2 who realized that armoring the planes where the bullet holes were was not the way to increase survivability.

  2. Erm. Bronze Age. Copper & Tin. Where does the tin come from? Cornwall. So boats need to be able to get from the Med to Cornwall & back – they weren’t carting it overland through what became Gaul. That demands at least some capability to navigate out of sight of land and build boats that can cope with open ocean water.

  3. If you don’t normally search at that distance from the shore you can’t expect to find wrecks at that distance from the shore. I see it was discovered by chance by a drilling rig.

    I can imagine Phoenicians (= Canaanites) routinely sailing well off shore when they have the mountains of Lebanon in sight. Maybe they then develop the confidence to sail further south with no mountains in sight. Or maybe a storm carried them away.

    In that era was there trade between Phoenicia and Cyprus? Could that be done by always sailing within sight of land? Perhaps so.

    In that era was there trade to India via the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf? Question, questions.

  4. It’s in the Med. It’s out of sight of land.

    The Med is an enclosed sea. You don’t need to keep to the coast. You can strike off in any direction and encounter land, and as long as at least one person on board has at least one good-enough working eyeball, you know what direction you’re going in. You don’t even need maps, you just go in the same direction that got you to your destination last time.

  5. The Meissen Bison

    Finding the failures isn’t a wholly accurate guide to what worked……

    Possibly not but it’s a jolly useful indicator. The alternative is that this vessel was part of a limited number of attempts and the odds of one of the limited number turning up must be very small.

    Also, the quantity of jars on board suggests that the vessel was trading and you would be unwilling to hasard a cargo on an experimental voyage.

  6. “you know what direction you’re going in.” How so? You don’t have a compass. I suppose you could try latitude sailing but that’s bit limited and without a measure of longitude you won’t know when to change course.

    Of course there are points in the East Med where you could latitude-sail an awfully long way west before you encountered land and its promise of fresh water.

  7. You’d think they’d never read any Classical Greek literature, wouldn’t you? Storms get regular mention in conjunction with mariners.

    Have you actually ever seen the Med jgh? Even where I am at one of the narrow bits it’s a bloody long way to the other side. You could go out there & sail about for months without sighting land. Well, until you got swamped by a 30 ft wave you could. Mediterranean storms can be vicious.
    Also, it’s all very good after the fact being able to see “There’s land over in that direction two days sailing away.” It’s another matter before, when you don’t know that. Columbus thought a few days pleasant sailing would take him to India*
    *I’ve never really understood that. The circumference of the Earth had actually been measured by the Greeks to a fair accuracy & that it was a sphere wasn’t in dispute. And they must have had some idea of how far it was to India going east. And subtracting one from the other gives you an India about 12000 miles wide. But I suppose they were badly infected with religion back then.

  8. Oh I get now!
    Of course, part of what makes the recent find all the more impressive is that it’s about 2,900 years older than those preserved wrecks from a century ago. It speaks to how much history can be gleaned from an object if it’s forgotten about by everyone but Mother Nature.
    Whayhey! There’s research money in this! Get ready to fill yer boots boys!

  9. “But I suppose they were badly infected with religion back then.” I’ve never heard a serious suggestion that Columbus’s miscalculation was anything to do with religion. More likely it was to do with his obsession and, perhaps, the knowledge that the Norse had found land to the west which he may well have assumed must have been northern Asia.

    It was probably also that it was part of his sales pitch. Rather than “I’d like to do research and exploration to the West, using all the knowledge of winds and currents that the Portuguese have accumulated” it was “You see, Your Majesties, it’ll make you stinking rich.”

    Which, in fact, it did for a while.

  10. dearieme:
    All loaded up Akhmed? First time as apprentice steerer? Ok, for the last 30 years we’ve aimed the pointy bit at that squiggle in the sky that looks like a horse, and waited for the wind to come from that girt big mass of sand over there, so off we go.

  11. Well he did seem to think he’d got to India Or at least Indonesia if he thought it was the Spice Isles. But he’s still only half the way round. The metrics going east were pretty well established by the end of the C15th. OK they didn’t have reliable clocks to calculate longitude. But you’d have some idea of westerly travel distance by the old faithful method of chucking a log overboard & counting knots gives you velocity.
    I only say religion because the discrepancies between the Holy Word of the Bible & observation were usually debated by devout handwaving & the prospect of piles of kindling & a torch in those days. Not much different from these days, of course.

  12. re: Columbus.

    From what I remember reading, there were a couple of calculations of the Earth’s diameter, varying by quite a lot.
    If you take the smallest answer, and have an optimistic attitude, you likely get Columbus. He did shop the idea around a lot; the advisers for the monarchs who refused may have pointed out just how he was coming up with it.

    There’s also the thing that India was not the furthest east point, and I think they may have known that. So how much further east did land continue? He may have thought to get to the furthest east point, then refresh and sail down the coast to India or whatever. Then when he did make landfall, he may have compared notes with what he knew of India (not much) and said “We made it!”

  13. Compass not required for oceanic navigation – ask the Polynesians

    Stars/moon/sun, prevailing winds, currents and the behaviours of marine animals are sufficient

    56 miles is not far offshore

  14. The way the Polynesians explored the Pacific was to wait for a wind to blow in the opposite direction to the prevailing winds. Then you can get back home again when the wind reverts to normal. At least so it is inferred: they left no written record of how they did it.

    I don’t think that idea would have appealed to trading peoples round the Med. They seem mainly to have stayed near the coasts using familiar currents and landmarks.

  15. Are people seriously suggesting that bronze age sailors hadn’t noticed that the north star is always in the north, and the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west?

    We’re talking about sailors, not Gender Studies graduates.

  16. From what I remember reading, there were a couple of calculations of the Earth’s diameter, varying by quite a lot.

    Eratosthenes nailed it in 300 BC to a couple hundred miles. And that would have been in the body of literature was the basis of university educations since there were universities. It wasn’t until the C17th that any of it got seriously questioned. Roger Bacon did a bit of disputing in the C13th earned him a decade of imprisonment to ponder his errors. Better than the post & faggots remedy, I s’pose.

    As for the recently discovered ship. Occam’s Razor says it got sunk in a storm that blew it out into the middle of the Med, without needing to discuss bronze age navigational techniques. Must have happened hundreds of times. Happens regularly now. Med winds can do all sorts of nasty things very quickly.

  17. The tale I heard was that Columbus spent quite a bit of time in the Canary Islands, where the wind blows pretty constantly to the west. And of course he spent lots of time in Lisbon trying to persuade the Portuguese to finance his ideas. Here the wind blows from the west.

    So he felt he had a simple solution to getting to and from the Indies.

    Naturally he also took the smallest estimate of earth’s circumference, and the largest guess he could make up of the distance to China and Japan. I understand this meant he thought he’d hit Asia just about where he actually hit America!!

  18. The monsoon winds were predicable even before the current global warming disaster.
    So given enough ship building skills in Bronze Age India we might find some wreck s in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

  19. The two main gateways for east to west trade were Constantinople and the ports roughly north from Alexandria.
    For Milena people have used the trade winds to sail from Eden to southern India : The Spice Malabar coast, then load up with pepper ,ginger etc and when the winds reversed sail back to the red sea , offload to camel trains on to the ports on the eastern med for on sale westward etc
    (Constantinople was more about bolts of silk , Chinese specialities plus furs and slaves from the Rus)

  20. @ John
    That’s why I said the metrics to the east were established. It was generally known how long it took to sail to India & back & thus the distance. The caravan routes & travel times would give the distance to China. However, at the time the Classical period was regarded as the peak of human knowledge so indisputable. And that knowledge included the geometerers & their proofs & Eratosthenes. You put the two together & you get a bloody great gap.
    My suspicion is Columbus knew how far it was. But people’s view of the world was very different from reality. They didn’t really know about the oceans because anyone who’d experienced one hadn’t returned. To them, you sail the sea in a particular direction & after a relatively short period you hit land. Maybe there was some knowledge of Norse voyages to N. America. But that’s done in stages. Europe to Iceland. Iceland Greenland. Greenland the continent. So their picture of where the oceans are is a lot islands of various sizes with relatively short sea crossings between them. And that is what some old speculatory maps show. To them, Eurasia/Africa is the World. It doesn’t require other continents. God would have mentioned them. So for Columbus, he’s reached the eastern extension of those islands by travelling west.

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