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Bronze-Age Ship With Cargo Fit for a King

Malcolm Billings reviews the astonishing holdings of the Museum of Underwater Archaeology at Bodrum, Turkey.

A unique archaeological treasure, recovered from the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, will soon be on display for the first time at the Museum of Underwater Archaeology at Bodrum, Turkey. The find, made in 1982, is a treasure ship that sank at the height of the Bronze Age thirty-four centuries ago.

The ship and her cargo are well protected by the walls of the fifteenth-century Crusader castle at Bodrum. The dressed stones of the castle are themselves an artefact of the ancient world. A survey carried out during the 1960s and 1970s by the Danish archaeologist Dr Christian Jeppesen revealed that much of the castle is constructed using materials from one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the fourth-century BC Mausoleum. Tumbled and ruined by earthquakes, the Mausoleum of King Mausolus became a convenient quarry for the Knights of St John of Jerusalem when they started to build their great Crusader castle on the coast nearby in 1402.

Standing at the end of a promontory, it dominates the town of Bodrum and its harbour, and houses one of the Mediterranean’s most important collections of ancient shipwrecks. Artefacts fill every tower and dungeon: the Knight’s Chapel has a reconstruction of the stern of a Byzantine cargo ship; two floors of the ‘English Tower’ are full of rare medieval Islamic glass recovered from an eleventh-century wreck; and the medieval treasure ship itself has had part of its hull rebuilt using the original timbers and is on show in a special gallery. There have been more than thirty years of scientific investigation of the seabed, and the search has been so prolific that every courtyard and corridor overflows with objects brought to the surface by American and Turkish divers working with the Texas-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology.

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