Ancient Red Sea shipwreck found near El Quseir

Red Sea coast near El Quseir (wusel007)
Red Sea coast near El Quseir (wusel007)

Many wrecks and relics from the ancient world have been found off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, but such discoveries are rare in the Red Sea.

Now a Roman shipwreck has been located only 8km north of the small diving resort El Quseir, and the researchers from Egypt’s National Institute of Oceanography & Fisheries who have been surveying the site describe it as a “significant finding”.

The NIOF team were looking for the wreck of a ship mentioned in records as heading for India but lost near the ancient port of Myos Hormos at the end of the 1st century AD. The port was later known as Quseir al-Qadim.

The vessel was believed to be carrying amphoras containing olive oil and wine as well as “enormous quantities of coins and precious metals”, according to the team.

Schematic seabed 3D representation with (right) 3D representation of the  wreck (NIOF)
Schematic seabed 3D representation with (right) 3D representation of the wreck (NIOF)

Previous archaeological work in the ancient harbour area has traced settlements, jetties and pottery from between the end of the 1st century BC and the early 3rd century AD. The researchers were using an AUV to carry out sidescan-sonar imaging of the seabed in the bay when an oval shape suggesting a wreck was picked up at a depth of around 60m. 

The wreck-site lies only about 200m from the northern border of the ancient port’s entrance, say the NIOF team, led by Amr Hamouda. 

Bathymetric modelling showed a pile of amphoras lying beside the ship, which measures 32m with a beam of just under 8m. The vessel projects about 1.5m above the sediment, and has yet to be excavated. 

Seabed imagery was collected using a ROV video camera, but there is no indication that scuba divers have been involved in surveying the site.

ROV photography validating acoustic mosaic data in the semi-closed bay at the ancient port entrance  (NIOF)
ROV photography validating acoustic mosaic data in the semi-closed bay at the ancient port entrance (NIOF)

‘Major attraction’

The Red Sea has a “unique environment that helps to preserve sunken wrecks for centuries due to the lack of oxygen in the deep waters”, says the team.

Myos Hormos, marking the closest point between the Red Sea and the Nile, was a significant trading port linking the Mediterranean world with south Asia and east Africa during Egypt’s Roman and Ptolemaic eras. It was abandoned during the 3rd century AD, possibly as the result of silting. 

“The ancient Roman shipwreck is a significant discovery that poses as a major attraction for tourists from around the world,” conclude the NIOF team. 

“Active collaborations must be established with local tourism authorities to promote this site and develop sustainable tourism practices that protect the environment, while providing economic benefits to local communities.” Their study has just been published in the Egyptian Journal of Aquatic Research.

Also on Divernet: Divers explore 2,300-year-old wreck off Egypt, Ancient shipwreck found off Egypt, Divers reveal treasures from Egypt’s lost temples, Unique shipwreck proves the ancients right

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