A replica of a 2,500-year-old ship set sail in the Haifa Bay over the weekend, after two years of restoration work by a group of volunteers. The new ship, christened the Ma’agan Michael II, was named for the kibbutz where a fifth-century BCE shipwreck – the first Ma’agan Michael — was found in 1985.
The University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority launched the new ship on March 17 into the Mediterranean waters.
Archaeologists taking part in the restoration project were hoping to learn how ancient mariners sailed against the winds and currents, especially as they lacked today’s technological solutions.
The archaeologists had recovered a carpenter’s toolbox at the shipwreck. They used it to build the replica using the same materials, working methods, and tools that were used 2,500 years ago.
“It’s hard to admire it when you see the ship completed and it looks like a prop from a movie,” Avner Hillman, an IAA archaeologist, said at Friday’s ceremony. “But if you go into the belly of this ship and understand that inside it there are close to 10,000 bolts, and tens of thousands of nails, and those are among the dynamics we had no idea how to do two years ago.”
Hillman’s doctoral thesis at the University of Haifa covers the ancient woodworking methods used in building the ship.
The ancient Ma’agan Michael ship was discovered in 1985 by Ami Eshel, a member of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, some 70 meters from the kibbutz. The ship was removed from the sea in 1988 in a project directed by Dr. Elisha Linder, one of the founders of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa.
The ship was in fantastic condition thanks to it being covered in sand and thus helping to preserve it. The keel, numerous wooden plates, 14 crossbars, and the base of the mast were all preserved, offering researchers rare insights into the method used to construct the ship.
Building the replica ship was a dream for the late Prof. Yaacov Kahanov, of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa, and Hillman. Kahanov passed away in December 2016, just before the work was completed.
The restoration crew behind the replica are now learning how to properly sail the Ma’agan Michael ship. Their new plan is to sail to Cyprus – once they have enough practice close to the Israeli shore.