Abstract: The Uluburun Ship and Late Bronze Age Maritime Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean

Lecturer: Cemal Pulak

The cargo of the Late Bronze Age Uluburun ship (ca. 1320±15 B.C.) included 10 tons of copper and a ton of tin ingots, terebinth resin and oil carried in Canaanite jars, glass ingots, elephant and hippopotamus tusks, ostrich eggshells, ebony logs, faience and ivory objects, pottery export wares, gold and silver jewelry, as well as bronze tools and weapons.  A unique gold scarab naming Queen Nefertiti of Egypt was also recovered.  Although most of the cargo originated from a Syro-Palestinian and Cypriot ports, the home port of the ship almost certainly lay in the region of the north Carmel Coast of Israel.  The evidence for the cedar-built ship’s origin comes from its 24 stone anchors fashioned from beach rock of a type found along the Carmel Coast, and its pottery galley wares originating from this region.  A bronze female statuette and an ivory trumpet aboard are also of Canaanite origin, as are the oil lamps used aboard, revealing the crew’s preference for this lamp type over the more abundant Cypriot variety in pristine condition carried as cargo.

The ship and its cargo appear to represent a royal or elite dispatch of enormously rich and valuable raw materials and manufactured goods almost certainly shipped to a single destination. The venture was probably entrusted to an official or messenger who carried prestige gifts of ivory, tin, and faience to be presented to the elites receiving the cargo.  Personal items of Aegean origin point to the presence of two Mycenaeans aboard who were probably escorting the goods to their home port.  That these Mycenaeans were not merchants is revealed by the absence of balance weights based on the Aegean mass standard; such weights were essential for conducting long-distance commerce in pre-coinage societies.  An Aegean connection for the Uluburun ship that extends into the northern Balkans is evidenced by the recovery from the wreck of several spears and a rare ceremonial scepter-mace from Bulgaria or Romania.

The Uluburun ship and its remarkable cargo clearly demonstrate how Near Eastern raw materials and manufactured goods were dispersed through maritime routes to the Aegean and regions beyond during the Late Bronze Age.  Trade was an integral part of life during this time, serving not only as a way of obtaining raw materials not available locally, but also as a means of diplomacy and fostering extensive cultural exchange, giving merchants extended contact with foreign ways and goods.

 

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Cemal Pulak, “Uluburun Shipwreck.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (Ca. 3000-1000 BC), ed. E.H Cline, pp. 862-876. Oxford University Press, 2010. 

Cemal Pulak, “The Uluburun Shipwreck and Late Bronze Age Trade.” InBeyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. ed. J. Aruz, K. Benzel, and J.M. Evans, pp. 288-305, artifact catalog: 306-310, 313-321, 324-333, 336-342, 345-348, 350-358, 366-378, 382-385.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition Catalog, New York, 2008.

Cemal Pulak, “Discovering a Royal Ship from the Age of King Tut: Uluburun, Turkey.” In Beneath the Seven Seas: Adventures with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, ed. G.F. Bass, pp. 34-47.  Thames and Hudson, 2005.

Featured Lecturer

Michael C. Nelson is Assistant Professor of Art History at Queens College, City University of New York.  He holds his degrees from the University of Toronto (Ph.D. and MA), and the University of... Read More

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