Researchers Plan to Lift 3,000-Year-Old Shipwreck From Sea Floor

European researchers are embarking on an underwater mission next month to resurface the oldest known hand-sewn shipwreck in the Mediterranean.

Located off the coast of the Istria peninsula in Croatia, the Zambratija boat has “stood the test of time,” with nearly 30 feet of its 39-foot structure still relatively intact, according to a news release from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). The ancient vessel was initially documented in 2008, according to a 2019 report, and found empty. However, there is still much to be studied in the structure’s elm planks and slanted stitching made of vegetal fibers — a prime example of pre-Roman traditional shipbuilding in the Adriatic coastal regions of Istria and Dalmatia.

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Hand-sewn boats are wooden ships featuring planks connected via stitches, ties, and other flexible bindings like branches and roots. These boats have been identified and attributed to different cultures around the world including early Nordic groups, the Ancient Egyptian empire, and the Austronesian communities in the Indo-Pacific region.

Currently, at least 64 hand-sewn boats spanning the Bronze Age to the Medieval period have been recorded in the Mediterranean.

At the moment, archaeologists know that the Zambratija shipwreck dates between 1101 and 901 BCE, based on radiocarbon dating analysis results, but will only be able to confirm its exact construction date once they bring the boat’s materials to land for further testing.

Beginning on July 2, divers will swim down to the shallow bay floor of the Zambratija Cove to retrieve the hand-sewn boat in sections. The mission will be led by CNRS researcher Giulia Boetto from Adriboats — a research program focusing on Eastern Adriatic antiquities under contract by France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. Over the years, the program has worked in close collaboration with several other Croatian historical research institutions including the University of Zadar and the Croatian Conservation Institute to better understand the technological and cultural influences between ocean and river communities in the Mediterranean.

A bi-national team from France’s Camille Jullian Center and Croatia’s Archaeological Museum of Istria (AMI) will then reconstruct the vessel to study its construction in closer detail, focusing on the sewing fibers and woodworking techniques used to build the structure.

After it is analyzed in Istria, the Zambratija boat will be desalted, and in 2024 it will be transported to the Arc-Nucléart conservation-restoration workshop in Grenoble. Researchers hope to eventually exhibit the vessel in a museum exhibiting Pula’s maritime history.

Hyperallergic has reached out to the CNRS research team for more information on the mission.

The news of the recovery of the Zambratija wreck was publicized earlier this month, just weeks before the deadly excursion of the Titan submersible that is believed to have imploded during its descent to the wreck of the Titanic. The Titan vessel was built and operated without formal certification by OceanGate Expeditions for use in deep-sea tourism, and the accident has led some experts to fear for the future and funding prospects of scientific ocean exploration endeavors.


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