National Geographic: Lost Ships of the Mediterranean


They lived by wind and wave,

and knew these waters well.

Their people were lords of the sea.

Few built finer craft.

Few sailed faster... or farther.

But none of that could save this ship.

The sea would rise up and conceal

its fate for nearly an eternity.

Summer 1997.

The US Navy's nuclear submarine,

the NR-1 is on a mission

in the eastern Mediterranean.

The sub's advanced sonar detects

several large objects in deep water

that appear to be shipwrecks.

Though pressed for time,

the crew decides to take a quick look.

A rough set of coordinates

and a shadowy videotape

are recorded on the fly.

Later, the crew will send word

to a former naval officer-

who is also one of the greatest

undersea explorers in the world.

The man who discovered the Titanic,

the Bismarck,

and many other shipwrecks,

Robert Ballard is immediately intrigued.

The sheer number of ceramic jars

is impressive-

but their meaning escapes

this marine geologist.

Well, not being an archeologist,

all I could tell was

it's an ancient ship,

but I didn't know anything

more than that.

It lies at a forbidding

Is it worth investigating?

Ballard will seek the advice

of an expert.

Throughout the Mediterranean,

most shipwrecks have been discovered

in shallow water.

But this one was found nearly

opposite what was once a thriving

the city of Ashkelon.

On the southern coast of

present-day Israel,

Ashkelon's roots reach back

nearly 6,000 years.

Crusaders and Muslims

fought over this place.

Romans claimed it.

Babylonians destroyed it.

In the Bible, it was a stronghold

of the Philistines.

Its earliest known inhabitants

were the Canaanites.

Since 1985,

archeologist Lawrence Stager,

of Harvard University

has directed excavations here.

His knowledge of ancient pottery

is renowned.

In a tiny shard,

he can 'see' an entire artifact,

and pinpoint the culture

that produced it.

Oh, now this is great.

This is Cypro-Geometric III.

This is most probably

an import from Cyprus.

But things were not so clear

in the Navy's videotape.

Well, when I first looked at it,

I was a bit disappointed

that it was so fuzzy, and couldn't

really make out these jars very well.

Because that, of course, was the key

to determining the age of the shipwreck.

But it seemed to me

that they might be early,

and possibly even 9th, 8th,

These two-handled storage jars,

called amphoras,

were first used throughout

the Mediterranean

around 4,000 years ago.

Distinctive styles evolved

in various locales-

a boon for archeologists

who can use the jars

as 'signatures' of time and place.

But sometimes two amphoras

from vastly different eras

can be deceptively similar.

These might be

from the 5th Century A.D.

But Stager has a hunch

they're much older.

He tells Ballard that if this wreck

dates to the Iron Age,

as he suspects, it is the first of its

kind ever found in the Mediterranean.

It was a gamble but one that

I was at least confident enough

in that I would have put down

a good-sized bet.

More than money would be wagered.

In the summer of 1999, the

'Northern Horizon' sets out from Malta.

Ballard and Stager lead an expedition

to relocate and study

the mysterious wreck.

At stake is their conviction

that the combined strengths

of oceanography and archeology

can make history.

You know, when we found the Titanic,

we found the Bismarck,

we knew they existed.

They really were not a discovery.

They were a relocation.

These are true discoveries.

These are chapters of human history

we don't know about,

and I actually think

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    "National Geographic: Lost Ships of the Mediterranean" STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 26 Jan. 2021. <>.

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