18th-century wreck found in Red Sea

The 18th-century wreck site (Heritage Commission)

Remains of an 18th-century shipwreck have been discovered in the northern Red Sea by archaeological scuba divers from Saudi Arabia. 

The Heritage Commission, part of the kingdom’s Ministry of Culture, has announced that artefacts including hundreds of fragments of Mediterranean amphora-style pottery and navigational tools were found at the Gulf of Aqaba wreck-site. It lies about 300m off the resort town of Haqal, 36km south of Aqaba in Jordan.

The wreck, thought to date from the late 18th century, was found by five divers who later led a team to carry out a 3D photogrammetry survey. Their initial reports suggest that the ship might have broken up and scattered its cargo after hitting a coral reef.

The archaeologists hope that finding personal belongings and coins at the site might reveal more about the vessel’s identity, whether it was bound for Haqal and why it sank.

The coast at Haqal (Marc Ryckaert / MJJR)

According to the Heritage Commission, co-operative efforts with international research bodies have so far revealed more than 50 sunken shipwreck sites in the Red Sea.

The current archaeological push forms part of the Red Sea Project being driven by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC). Charged with driving mass tourism to the country’s west coast, the organisation is keen to underline the Red Sea’s heritage as an international trading route even before the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal.

Last November TRSDC announced plans for an attempt to lift another 18th-century Red Sea merchant wreck – to be displayed in a purpose-built museum in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. 

The University of Napoli L’Orientale was set to oversee the operation off Al Wajl, more than 400km south of Haql. It described the 20m-deep site as the Red Sea’s best-preserved and most intact timber shipwreck, complete with cargo of as many as 4000 calcified jars and porcelain. It was thought to have sunk between 1725 and 1750.

Under the US $5 billion Red Sea Project, Saudi Arabia plans to develop some 50 Red Sea resorts and more than 1,000 residential properties along with an international airport, marinas and leisure facilities by 2030.


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