November 29, 2006, Updated September 13, 2012

Researchers from the Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa inspect the ship wreckage below Dor Beach.A shipwreck found off the coast of Israel’s Dor Beach south of Haifa is the oldest boat in the world built by the “shell-first” method. The oldest known boat built by this method was, until now, located in Turkey and dates back to the first quarter of the 11th century. Research conducted at the Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa revealed that the Israeli shipwreck is about 500 years older.

The wreck of a medium-sized merchant ship was discovered off the coast of Dor Beach in 2001 and has since been the subject of research at the Institute, headed by Dr. Ya’acov Kahanov. During the digging season that just ended, it became clear that this is no less than a revolution in the field.

The boat, which dates back to the 5th century or beginning of the 6th century is the oldest boat built by the “shell-first” method known to be in existence. This inexpensive method of shipbuilding was developed at the fall of the Roman Empire.

“We now have a representative image of the international-political changes that took place during that period,” noted Kahanov.

According to Kahanov, there are two methods of building wooden ships. The older method entailed building the outer shell first and then adding the inner framework. The newer method, on the other hand, required the building an inner wooden framework first, and then using nails to fasten planks to the exterior. The change to the newer method began with the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine Empire, which brought about a significant decline in government public investments. Thus there was a need to find cheaper ways to continue commercial activities. A change in the shipbuilding method was one way to reduce costs.

“During the initial stages of this dig we already speculated that our boat was build by the “shell-first” method, but we were met with reservations among our colleagues,” said Kahanov.

Now, with the completion of this digging season, the doubts have disappeared. The researchers sent a two-meter section taken from the center of the boat to the lab for tests and it was proven that this boat was indeed build by the “shell-first” method. “This is a revolution in dating the change to the new method of shipbuilding, as our boat is 500 years older than the one in Turkey.”

With the close of the fifth digging season, the story of the boat that sunk off the coast of Dor Beach 1,500 years ago is beginning to take shape. This merchant ship was 16 meters long and 5 meters wide. It sailed up and down the coast of the land of Israel during the Byzantine period, a quicker and more efficient replacement to land-based convoys for shipping goods. On her last voyage, the ship carried local building stones. It was these stones that preserved the ship all these years.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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