Yulia Karra
July 1

A 3,300-year-old ship has been discovered at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel, in what appears to be the world’s oldest shipwreck discovery in modern history.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said the ship’s cargo contains hundreds of intact smaller vessels, hundreds of whole jugs and other items. 

The vessels date to the Late Bronze Age (14-13th century BCE), and are believed to be Canaanite storage vessels that were transporting cheap and mass-produced products such as oil, wine and agricultural produce.


The wreck is located on the seafloor at a depth of 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles), far away from the shore. 

Only two other shipwrecks with cargo from the Late Bronze Age have ever been discovered in the Mediterranean Sea — both off the Turkish coast and relatively close to the shore.

Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Unit Jacob Sharvit called the discovery “history-changing,” noting that it “reveals to us, as never before, the ancient mariners’ navigational skills.”

Shavit explained that, until now, the academic assumption has been that trade during that period was executed by safely moving ships from port to port, “hugging the coastline within eye contact.”

“From this geographical point, only the horizon is visible all around. To navigate they probably used the celestial bodies, by taking sightings and angles of the sun and star positions,” he said, adding that the discovery has opened the door for further research. 

“The ship is preserved at such a great depth that time has frozen since the moment of disaster – its body and contexts have not been disturbed by human hand; nor affected by waves and currents which do impact shipwrecks in shallow waters.”

The extraction 

The IAA said the shipwreck was located by Energean during a deep sea survey that checked different parameters using an advanced submersible robot. Energean is a natural gas-focused exploration and production company that operates Karish, Katlan and Tanin offshore gas rigs near the Israeli coast. 

Energean Israel’s environmental lead Dr. Karnit Bahartan said the first sighting of the wreck was picked up by the submersible robot nearly a year ago.

Dr. Bahartan and Jacob Sharvit with the ancient jars. Photo by Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
Dr. Bahartan and Jacob Sharvit with the ancient jars. Photo by Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

“We are in ongoing contact with the IAA, and when we sent them the images it turned out to be a sensational discovery, far beyond what we could imagine,” she said.

The company’s technicians then planned a complex mapping and extraction operation, and even built a special tool to enable extracting artifacts with minimal risk of damage to the items.

Over the course of two days of work at sea, the Energean team extracted two vessels, each from a different extremity of the ship, to minimize disturbances to the intact assemblage of the boat and its cargo.

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