When the ship, possibly sailing from Cyprus, went down, the Trojan war was still 100 years in the future. The Hittites were fighting the Egyptians for the control of the land between the Nile and Anatolia. Nefertiti’s reign had recently ended.
The ship lay off the Turkish coast for 3300 years before George Bass of UPenn and his Turkish colleagues excavated the site. Because the water was fairly deep, and because the site contained such treasure, the job required 22,000 dives spaced over 11 years. In all, 18,000 artifacts weighing 20 tons were brought to the surface. Now they live in the Underwater Archeology Museum in Bodrum, a resort town on the Aegean coast, which has the added distinction of being the hometown of Herodotus.
Herodotus, the Father of History, would like this museum because the ship’s cargo tells us volumes about eastern Mediterranean society, trade, cooperation, capitalism, artistic skill. Tons and tons of copper and tin ingots filled the hold. Blended together, of course, copper and tin created the Bronze Age. The additional ingots of deep blue glass may have been used for beaded necklaces like those found among the crew’s personal belongings. In any case, glass was sufficiently desirable to be traded in commercial quantities. The manifest would also point to the ebony logs from tropical Africa, the amphoras of resin, the elephant and rhinoceros ivory, containers of Near East spices, and the hollowed ostrich egg shells that potentates enjoyed receiving as particular displays of respect.
The crew and passengers identified themselves as well. Some carried Canaanite jewelry and weapons; others kept small carved Egyptian cylinders which, when dipped in hot wax and then rolled over the edges of a document, sealed it with an identifying pictogram. Someone had recently been on a high level mission to Egypt. The tiny solid gold image of Nefertiti (the only one known in the world) must have been a valued gift. At least two Mycenaeans were on board; they carried no tools of the merchant trade, so they may have been diplomats or mercenaries. At least one scribe made this fatal journey. He carried a pocket notebook hinged along one side. Inside, a leather loop held a stylus in place. The scribe could jot his notes on the two panels of beeswax and then fold them away for safekeeping.
The dating of the sea wreck, by the way, comes by virtue of tree ring dating. A cedar log found on board matches the ring patterns of trees from about 1305 BCE. Check with your arborist for confirmation.
Shift of historical focus: the museum would be splendid (did I mention the darkened rooms of beautiful glassware?) in a warehouse. The fact that it is all settled in a crusader castle on the beautiful dual-harbor coastline makes the whole experience more accessible and illuminating. You can meander back 600 years at a time rather than dive through all thirty-three centuries at once. And when you need to come up for air from a dive, you can climb a tower and look out over the calm blue harbor or imagine it as Homer’s wine-red sea or penetrate the surface in search of yet another wreck.
Some history is both true and false. Remember the end of Henry IV Part II? Dying, Henry promises to atone for his sins—like arranging for the murder of his monarch, Richard II—by undertaking a journey to the Holy Land. Shakespearian irony demands that Henry die in chamber called Jerusalem, as close as he got to leading a crusade. Nevertheless, his coat of arms surmounts the entrance to the English Tower at Bodrum Castle. Oh, to be a king!