Israeli researchers say they may have solved a 100-year-old shipwreck mystery — tying a wreck to the Baron de Rothschild (1845-1934).

The mysterious shipwreck was first discovered in 1976 in the Tantura Lagoon near Dor Beach, a port that has been used since antiquity. Researchers from the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa found that the ship is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron’s ships.

“We know that two of the baron’s three ships were sold, but we have no information concerning the third ship. The ship we have found is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron’s ships, carried a similar cargo, and sailed and sank during the right period,” say Dr. Deborah Cvikel and graduate student Micky Holtzman, who are investigating the shipwreck.

Ship sank with its cargo still onboard. Photo: University of Haifa
Ship sank with its cargo still onboard. Photo: University of Haifa

In 1893, the Baron de Rothschild (Edmond James Rothschild) founded a glass factory at Tantura (Dor) beach in order to enable the local production of wine bottles for the winery at nearby Zichron Yaacov. It is known that the Baron de Rothschild purchased three small ships to transport raw materials from factories in France to the factory at Tantura.

Records show the purchase of the ships, their models, repairs they underwent, and the sale of two of the ships. But the fate of the third ship remains unknown.

The wreck was excavated in a 1999-2000 study that focused mainly on the structure of the ship, and again in 2008, in a study that focused mainly on its contents, which included pots, earthenware, ceramic tiles, roof tiles, barrels, crates, and several sacks. The latest study is based on the processing of findings from the 2008 excavation.

Ceramics helped researchers conclude the ship likely sank in the late 1800s. Photo: University of Haifa
Ceramics helped researchers conclude the ship likely sank in the late 1800s. Photo: University of Haifa

The researchers found that most of these items were stamped with the name of the factory in which they were manufactured. They found a total of six different factory stamps, all relating to French factories active in the late nineteenth century. Ceramics found with a lion motif of the Guichard Freres company, which operated between 1889 and 1897, helped the team conclude that the ship likely sank in the late 1800s.

Now Cvikel and Holtzman believe the two-masted schooner off the coast at Dor could be the Baron’s third ship.

“This ship could certainly be one of dozens of similar ships that plied the coasts of Palestine during this period,” the researchers say. “However, there seem to be more than a few items that connect it with Zichron Yaacov, with the glass factory at Tantura, and with the Baron’s ships. Perhaps we can now conclude that the third ship was not sold and condemned to obscurity like its sisters, but sank with its cargo still onboard.”