or Great Cape, cape located 8.5 km (about 5 mi.) southeast of Kaş, Turkey (36°08′N, 29°41′15′′E). In 1982 a Late Bronze Age shipwreck was discovered only 60 m off the east face of Uluburun, 400 m from its tip, by sponge diver Mehmet Çakır. Excavations by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University, in 22, 413 dives between 1984 and 1994, revealed a unique cargo lost in the late fourteenth century BCE.

The ship lay on a steep slope with its stern at a depth of 44 m and its bow at 52 m, with artifacts tumbled down to 61 m. Built of cedar in the ancient shell-first tradition, with pegged mortise-and-tenon joints holding its planks together and to the keel plank, it was about 15 m long. A fence of wicker is reminiscent of fencing seen on Egyptian depictions of contemporary Syrian ships and of the wicker fence Odysseus constructed to keep the waves out of his vessel (Odyssey 5.526).

The cargo consisted mostly of raw materials, items of trade already known to the excavators primarily, and in some instances only, from ancient cuneiform texts or Egyptian tomb paintings. The major cargo was ten tons of Cypriot copper in the form of 318 flat ingots comprising the typical four-handled ingots weighing about 24 kg apiece; nearly identical two-handled ingots (which disprove the questionable notion that four-handled ingots were cast in imitation of dried ox hides); flat, pillow-shaped ingots; and planoconvex discoid “bun” ingots. Nearly a ton of virtually pure tin ingots (the earliest known) in both the four-handled and bun shapes represent the correct ratio, if mixed with the copper, to have formed eleven tons of bronze; the source of the tin is not known.

More than 150 diskoid glass ingots, in cobalt blue, turquoise, and lavender, are likely the mekku and ehlipakku listed in tablets from Ugarit and el-Amarna as items traded from the Syro-Palestinian coast, and the cakes of “lapis lazuli” and “turquoise” (as opposed to “genuine lapis lazuli” and “genuine turquoise”) shown as tribute from Syria in a relief of Thutmosis III at Karnak, Egypt. [See Ugarit Inscriptions; Amarna Tablets.] They are the earliest intact glass ingots known. Those of cobalt blue are chemically identical to the blue glass in eighteenth-dynasty Egyptian vases and in Mycenaean pendants, suggesting a common source for all. [See Glass.]

Logs of what the Egyptians called ebony, now known as blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) from tropical Africa, and of cedar are also unique archaeological finds. A ton of terebinth resin from the Pistacia atlantica or Pistacia terebinthus tree, known to have grown in the Near East and on the islands of Cyprus and Chios, was carried on the ship in more than one hundred Canaanite amphoras. This is the first scientifically identified find of this substance, which may be the Egyptian snṯr brought in Canaanite jars from the Near East to the pharaoh to burn as incense in religious rituals.

Other raw materials include ivory in the form of whole and partial elephant tusks and more than a dozen hippopotamus teeth; murex opercula, a possible ingredient for incense; tortoise carapaces, possibly intended as sound boxes for musical instruments; and ostrich eggshells that were probably intended to be embellished with faience or metal spouts to create exotic canteens.

Manufactured goods were also on board. At least two of ten large pithoi (storage jars) contained Cypriot export pottery, including base-ring II, white slip II, and white-shaved and bucchero wares; lamps; and probably “wall brackets” of unknown purpose. Several faience drinking cups were crafted as the heads of rams or, in one case, a woman. Canaanite jewelry includes silver bracelets, or anklets, and gold pendants, one with a nude goddess in relief holding gazelles and another with a falcon grasping hooded cobras. A gold goblet is of uncertain origin. Assorted beads are of agate, gold, faience, glass, and Baltic amber. Other artifacts include two duck-shaped ivory cosmetics boxes with hinged-wing lids, copper caldrons and bowls, a trumpet carved from a hippopotamus tooth, and more tin vessels than had previously been found throughout the Bronze Age Near East and Aegean. A stone ceremonial scepter-axe or mace is of a type otherwise known only in the northern Balkans.


ULUBURUN. Archaeologist Faith Hentschel measures the precise location of a copper oxhide ingot. (Copyright Frey/INA)

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Bronze weapons on board include arrowheads, spearheads, daggers, and Canaanite, Mycenaean, and probably Italian swords. Bronze tools include awls, drill bits, a saw, chisels, axes, and adzes. The largest collection of Bronze Age zoomorphic weights includes a sphinx, cows and bulls, lions, ducks, frogs, and a housefly, with one ornate weight bearing the figure of a cowherd kneeling before three of his calves.

Foodstuffs, whether as cargo or for shipboard use, include almonds, figs, olives, grapes (or raisins or wine), black cumin, sumac, coriander, and whole pomegranates, with a few grains of wheat and barley. Lead net sinkers, netting needles, fishhooks, and a bronze trident are evidence of fishing from the ship.

A tentative date of around 1316 BCE for the ship's sinking has been obtained by tree-ring analysis of a log (perhaps cargo, perhaps firewood) that presumably had been freshly cut when the vessel last sailed. This matches the fourteenth century BCE date of the Mycenaean pottery, and the date of a unique gold scarab of Egypt's Queen Nefertiti that could not have been put on board before her time in the middle of that century. The scarab was found near a jeweler's hoard of scrap gold (Canaanite medallions), silver (Canaanite bracelets), and electrum (an Egyptian ring); if it was part of this hoard, the suggestion is that the ship sank after the reign of Nefertiti, at a time when her scarab would have been worthless except for its gold value.

Ascertaining the nationality of the ship is also problematic. Assyrian, Syrian, and Kassite cylinder seals were recovered but do not necessarily mean that there were merchants on board from those lands because collections of seals were commonly sent as tribute or gifts from Near Eastern rulers to both Egyptian and Aegean rulers. Most of the cargo could have come from the Syro-Palestinian coast and Cyprus, but cargos do not identify the nationality of the ships that carried them either. Stronger evidence of nationality comes from the ship's twenty-four stone anchors. They are of a type virtually unknown in the Aegean but often found in the sea off the coast of Israel. Also found reused as building blocks in temples and tombs in Ugarit, Byblos, and Kition, this type of anchor seems to have been manufactured at Tell Abu Hawam and Tel Nami in Israel. [See Abu Hawam, Tell; Nami, Tel; Anchors.] An ivory-hinged boxwood diptych whose interior would have held wax writing surfaces (now missing) was found in a jar of whole pomegranates; parts of other diptychs appeared elsewhere on the site. Although they are of the type mentioned by Homer in his only reference to writing (Iliad 6.169), these diptychs are most likely of Near Eastern origin. A partly gold-clad bronze statuette of a female, perhaps the ship's protective deity, is Canaanite. On the other hand, the Mycenaean glass relief beads, bronze pin, spears and knives, tools, eating ware (cups, dipper, flasks, and a pitcher), and a pair of swords and merchant's seals suggest the presence of at least two Mycenaeans on board.


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    Demonstration of the Cypriot origin of the Ulu Burun copper
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    Discusses the seeds from the wreck
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    Discusses the seeds from the wreck
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    A description of the first wooden Diptych found at Uluburun
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    Discusses written evidence for the use of diptychs like those from Uluburun
  • Warnock, Peter, and Michael Pendleton. “The Wood of the Ulu Burun Diptych.” Anatolian Studies 41 (1991): 107–110.

Cemal Pulak and George F. Bass