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Greeks and Galleys: The Uluburun Shipwreck

Avast ye! Welcome to the final instalment of our Greeks and Galleys series, where we've been exploring the histories and adventures of Greek ships and their crews from ancient times to today. This month, we’ll learn about one of the world's oldest shipwrecks, the 3300 year-young Uluburun wreck. Find out about its cargo and origins, then make your own time capsule with this month's Create activity!

A diver exploring the incredibly well-preserved Uluburun shipwreck. Image via ancient-origins.net

DISCOVER


In 1982, a sponge diver off the coast of the Turkish city of Uluburun came across the ship you see in the image above. Although the design was unfamiliar, it looked like it had sunk only very recently. Little did he know that he had come across a 3300 year old wreck!


About 16 metres long, with a single sail and 24 anchors on board, we know nothing of the ship's original name or its crew. However, surrounding it is a wealth of artefacts which have been preserved on the ocean floor.

Gold chalice from the Uluburun wreckage. Image via nauticalarch.org

The Uluburun was a trade ship that likely came from Lebanon. Archaeologists think it had just left the ancient state of Lycia (in modern Turkey) and was on its way to the Greek mainland when it sunk between 1330 and 1300 BCE. The ship was carrying over 17 tonnes of materials inside – that’s twice as heavy as a T-Rex!


The ship contained copper ingots and pottery from Cyprus (read this newsletter's Object of the Month to find out more about ingots), tin from Afghanistan, silver from Turkey, glass ingots, ebony, gold and hippopotamus teeth from Egypt, bronze swords from Greece and Italy, blue glass from Lebanon, amber beads from the Baltic coast, resin from Israel, Cypriot olive oil, pomegranates, spices, herbs, olives, grapes, and even a duck-shaped box!


Duck-shaped box found among the Uluburn wreckage. Image via Bergbau Museum

All these objects from so many different places give us clues about how people interacted and traded with each other at the time, across the entire Mediterranean and beyond. We can also see just how important bronze was to the people of this time – the amount of copper and tin (which combine to make bronze) found in the ship could have made enough armour for 5,000 soldiers!

 
Ancient artefacts from the Uluburun wreck being examined by an underwater archaeologist. Image via nauticalarch.org

CREATE


The Uluburun wreck is so well preserved, containing so many valuable artefacts, that it is considered one of the most vivid time capsules showing us a part of the ancient Bronze Age past. This month, we're taking inspiration from the Uluburun wreck and having a go at creating our own time capsule!


What is a time capsule?

A time capsule is a bit like buried treasure. It is a collection of objects, letters, and possessions, hidden from view (typically buried in a box or locked in a vault). This box then cannot be opened until a specific time in the future. When it is opened, people in the future will then have an idea of what your life was like way back in the past when you first buried it!


Instructions:

  1. Collect some objects which you would like to bury in your time capsule, to tell people in the future about who you are now.

  2. Write a letter about who you are, what life is like in 2023, and even a short explanation of the objects you've included. You may wish to include some drawings!

  3. Close these items in a box. Bury the box in a safe place where no treasure hunters will steal it!

  4. Leave a sign where the box is buried which is clearly visible, marked: TIME CAPSULE BURIED BY [your name] IN 2023 NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL [insert year]

  5. Now you just have to think of when you want it to be opened! If you say that the box cannot be opened until 2043, you'll have grown 20 years older and will be able to open it yourself! But if you want it to be opened by future generations, you can write a date 100 or 200 years from now. Who knows what the world will be like then! They may learn a lot from your capsule.


We'd love to hear about your capsule! If you'd like to let us know what's in your capsule or when you plan for it to be opened, you can contact us at education@hellenic.org.au.


Until next time, λεῖος πλόος!

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