Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sadana Island Shipwreck Project

                                                         A four-armed grapnel anchor is one of three that mark the ship's bow. 

The Sadana Wreck Project Hurghada.

Off Egypt's Red Sea coast, a team from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities excavates an Ottoman-period shipwreck once brimming with coffee, spices and Chinese export porcelain, now home to exotic fish and coral.

This immense, mysterious ship lies more than 100 feet beneath the sea and has surprised scholars with new evidence for international trade and contact in the western Indian Ocean.

The wreck, located during a 1994 shipwreck survey, is INA's first excavation in Egypt. Founded by Dr. Cheryl Ward and Douglas Haldane, INA-Egypt's mission is the exploration and preservation of Egypt's maritime heritage. Egyptian and American conservators in the Alexandria Laboratory for the Conservation of Submerged Antiquities, a joint project of INA-Egypt and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), work together to preserve the thousands of objects diving archaeologists retrieve from the sea.

In 1998, INA-Egypt returned for a final excavation season at Sadana Island.

Qing Dynasty Chinese export porcelain attracted acquisitive visitors to the site, including a group which dived there more than 500 times in the early 1990s.

Our discovery in 1996 of over 140 stacked porcelain artifacts buried on the beach suggests that looting was fairly large scale.
Excavation began in 1995 (Haldane, 1996a and 1996b).

In addition to supplying information about a poorly documented period in the northern Red Sea, the Sadana Island Shipwreck provides a large and diverse collection of well dated artefacts of the mid-18th century, decades significant as trade patterns changed to reflect renewed Ottoman interest in controlling Red Sea commerce.


The Sadana Island shipwreck lies in 28-40 m of water at the sandy base of a coral reef about 35 km south of Hurgada, a popular Red Sea diving resort.

The ship sank and settled to one side, parallel to the reef, with its bow pointed inland. With time, much of the ship broke away and slid downslope into deep sand and was buried.
The stern is particularly well preserved.
Today, many of the ship's internal timbers lie just centimeters beneath the sand or are exposed.
Three, 4-m-long, grapnel anchors mark the bow, and the ship's frames can be traced continuously along the 50 x 20 m area.

In 1995, the excavation team concentrated on establishing datum points for mapping the site and clearing its surface of portable artifacts to prevent further looting losses.

After almost 3,000 dives in two excavation seasons, the ship seems nearly empty. Large storage jars once clustered in the middle of the site and porcelain, glass and copper objects spread along the central axis have been removed.
The site's major feature is the largest artefact, the ship itself. Trenches set out along the top (28-30 m deep) and bottom (32-36 m deep) of the site intersect with three transverse trenches.
In addition to recording timbers in these trenches, team members raised representative fragments for study and subsequently buried them on site.

More than 3,000 artifacts are now under conservation in the Alexandria Laboratory for the Conservation of Submerged Antiquities, a joint project of the SCA and INA, but we suspect that much of the original cargo was lost to looting and natural processes of decay in the sea.

Recovery of plant and animal remains is an integral part of our excavation and offers important evidence for this "invisible" cargo. Today as in the past, pilgrim traffic is important in Red Sea shipping, however, the paucity of personal possessions on the Sadana ship (about 30 to date) means that it was not carrying hundreds of passengers when it sank.

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