Discovering sunken treasure
The Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology
Who doesn’t love the idea of discovering sunken treasure? I’m sure I remember it being a dream of mine as a young boy. Sailing off a ship (pirate or otherwise), following a map to find the spot where x marks, and then opening up those chests full of gold. “Ah ha me maties, we’ll share this bullion and have a few rums to celebrate.” Or something like that. I’m not sure about the rum part of things – I was just a kid, after all.
Well, finally my dream came true in Turkey when I found the spot, I found x, I found sunken treasure. True, archaeologists and professional divers had already retrieved everything from the water and put it all in one location, but it was still worthy of some celebrational rum later that evening.
The treasure trove is called the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. It’s not any old museum, though. For one thing, it’s inside the Bodrum Castle on the side of the harbour. The enormous structure dominates the horizon from any viewpoint along the water’s edge and is the focus of all navigation in the area. The fact that the building complex itself could be a museum means it’s a bonus to have such a good exhibition inside it as well.
Inside the protective walls of the castle are the findings from more than ten shipwrecks along the Turkish coast. With great care and delicacy, teams of experts have retrieved the items that have been left on the seabed or nestled in any remains of the original vessel. They have found jars, coins, weapons, jewellery, glass bowls, and more.
These are old ships we’re talking about. The most recent vessel is about 400 years old and the oldest is from the sixteenth century BC – more than 3,500 years ago. This is the stuff a treasure-hunter’s dreams are made of!
The Uluburun shipwreck, Turkey
One of the most impressive finds that’s housed in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology is the wreck of a ship from the fourteenth century BC that was found near Uluburun in south-western Turkey. The guess is that it set sail from a port in what is now Cyprus, Syria or Palestine. Where it was heading, nobody knows for sure. But it had a lot of valuable goods on board, so presumably it was either going to be a gift for an important person, or was heading to a market – perhaps Rhodes.
On board it had copper ingots, a jar full of glass beads, jars of olives, elephant tusks, hippopotamus teeth, ostrich eggshells, a trumpet, gold and silver jewellery, daggers, maces, swords and (my favourite) a gold scarab inscribed with the name ‘Nefertiti’. Clearly this was no ordinary boat with ordinary cargo. Something royal was involved somewhere and it would have been a big loss for this vessel to sink.
But, their loss (whoever ‘they’ were) is our gain because some of things found on board had never been seen by modern eyes before – just read about in ancient texts and on Egyptian tomb paintings.
Imagine being the first person in more than three thousand years to see these things. Well, that honour actually went to a local Turkish sponge diver who first spotted the copper ingots on the bottom of the ocean. His name was Mehmet Cakir and the year was 1982. He sketched what he had seen, describing the bits of copper as “metal biscuits with ears” and, when the nautical archaeologists saw his drawings, an inspection team was sent out to start work.
So, you see, it is still possible to discover sunken treasure. If Mehmet Cakir can do it, so could any of us. Who knows how many more ancient shipwrecks are out there under the crashing waves around Turkey’s reefs? There’s still time to live a childhood dream.
* You can find out more about the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology here.