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Maayan Cohen, Michelle Creisher and Deborah Cvikel – The Maʻagan Mikhael B shipwreck
the maʻagan miKhael b shiPwreCK:
asummary of four exCavation seasons
Maayan Cohen, Michelle Creisher and Deborah CviKel
The Maʻagan Mikhael B shipwreck was discovered off the
Mediterranean coast of Israel in 2005. The hull remains are in
a good state of preservation, comprising the endposts, aprons,
framing timbers, hull planks, stringers, mast step assembly and
bulkheads. The most significant finds are the ceramic shards and
the complete amphorae. Other finds include bricks, rigging ele-
ments, wooden artefacts, coins, organic finds and animal bones.
The ship was dated to the 7th-8th centuries AD –a good reason
to excavate it in order to evaluate its significance in the period of
transition in ship construction from shell-first to frame-first.
Late antiquity, Late Roman amphorae, transition in ship construc-
tion, shipwreck
L’ép ave Maʻagan Mikhael B a été découverte au large des côtes
israéliennes en 2005. Les vestiges de sa coque, très bien conservés,
comprennent les massifs d’étrave et d’étambot ainsi que leurs
renforts, des membrures, une partie du bordé, des serres, l’em-
planture de mât et des cloisons. Des fragments de céramique et
des amphores complètes figurent parmi les découvertes les plus
importantes.Des briques, des éléments de gréement, des artefacts
en bois, des pièces de monnaie, des éléments organiques et des os
d’animaux ont été recueillis. Le navire a été daté aux alentours des
viie –viiie apr. J.C. ; les objectifs de la fouille étaient d’évaluer son
importance dans la période de transition de la construction navale
entre bordé premier et membrure première.
Mots clés
Antiquité tardive, amphores romaines tardives, période de transi-
tion en architecture navale, épave
Kibbutz Maʻagan Mikhael is located on the Mediterranean
coast of Israel, about 35km south of Haifa (g.1). It is known
for the 400 BC Maʻagan Mikhael ship, discovered in 1985
(Linder 2003; Kahanov 2011). About 150m south of this ship-
wreck site, another shipwreck was discovered by chance in
2005 by two local divers, Nathan Helfman and Yossi Batzir,
who reported seeing framing timbers, ceramic shards and
stones. In May 2015, this information was veried by a sub-
bottom proler survey conducted in collaboration with
Drs Grøn and Boldreel of the University of Copenhagen,
Denmark. The shipwreck was identied in 1.5 m of water,
under 1.5 m of sand, about 70m from the shoreline, and des-
ignated Maʻagan Mikhael B.In August 2015, a water-jetting
survey exposed fragments of wood, rope and a pine cone
(Cvikel etal. 2017).
Wood and organic samples were dated preliminarily by 14C
analyses to the 7th–8th centuries AD, which is the Late Byzantine
–Early Islamic Period in the region. Eight samples were sent
for dendrochronology to Prof Manning and Dr Lorentzen at
Cornell University, and are currently being studied. Typological
studies of the ceramics and amphorae have identied at least
four types of Late Roman transport vessels, including LRA 1, 4,
5 and 13, dated to the 7th century.
The main reason for excavating the Maʻagan Mikhael B
shipwreck was its date: to evaluate the signicance of the
techno logy of its construction in the period of transition in hull
construction from shell-rst to frame-based. Every shipwreck
of this period can provide valuable new insights into the pro-
cess of change in Mediterranean shipbuilding techniques,
which took place during the second half of the rst millennium
AD. Until about 20 years ago, it was widely accepted that the
rst ship found of pure frame-based construction was the Serçe
Limanı, dated to 1025 AD. However, the Byzantine and Islamic
Period shipwrecks at Dor (Tantura) lagoon, have provided evi-
dence of earlier frame-based ships (Pomey et al. 2012).
A long-term programme of underwater excavation and
research of the Maʻagan Mikhael B shipwreck was initiated.
Four seasons of underwater excavations were conducted in May
and December 2016, September 2017 and May 2018 by the
Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University
of Haifa (g.2). The site’s location was challenging, due to a
small island, which creates a meeting point between the off-
shore (southwest) current and a local (northwest) current in all
but calm weather. This fact, and inclement weather, allowed
only 27 excavation days out of the 59 planned. In the course of
the excavation seasons the well-preserved hull was partly
exposed, documented, and some components retrieved for fur-
ther study.
The shipwreck remains, oriented roughly east/west (110°–
290°), are 19.6 m long between extremities, and a maximum
4.9m wide. The maximum depth reached was 3 m, and the
keelson and keel have not yet been exposed. Among the hull
remains in a good state of preservation are endposts, aprons,
framing timbers, hull planks, stringers, the mast step assembly
and bulkheads (g.3). A wide variety of nds were found:
ceramic shards and complete amphorae, bricks, rigging ele-
ments and ropes, wooden artefacts, copper-lead alloy coins,
food remains and animal bones. After documentation and
careful consideration, some items were retrieved for further
ARCHAEONAUTICA_21.indb 167 31/05/2021 11:06
Archaeonautica 21 – 2021
The eastern endpost was composed of two timbers connected
by an elaborate scarf, a variation of the ‘Jupiter’ scarf. The
upper timber was made of Aleppo or Turkish (Calabrian) pine
(Pinus halepensis/brutia), and the lower timber was of walnut
(Juglans regia). The endpost has been exposed for 186cm. The
maximum dimensions of these components are 12.5 cm sided
and 23.5 cm moulded.
The upper timber of the western endpost is missing. The
lower timber, made of walnut, was partially accessible for docu-
mentation. About 25cm of its length was exposed. It is 13cm
sided and 12cm moulded at the lowest exposed point, tapering
to 10cm at the top end.
Adjacent to each endpost were installed what seem to have
been aprons, although their relation to the keel is as yet
unknown. These timbers, made of walnut, were denitely used
as internal reinforcements. About 40cm of the eastern apron
was exposed. Its dimensions are 24 cm sided and 22 cm
moulded. The western apron was exposed for 49 cm, and it
seems to be almost round, with a diameter of about 8cm.
Well-preserved framing timbers were found on both sides of
the hull, comprising at least 30 frame stations. They were made
of walnut, except for one, which was of holly oak (Quercus
ilex), with no clear indication of it being a repair. On average the
framing timbers were 13.3 cm sided and 12.3 moulded, with an
average room and space of 44cm. About 1m of the framing
timbers was exposed, and it was seen that the moulded dimen-
sion increased towards the keel. The cross-sections of the tim-
bers varied: some were made of par tially worked thick branches;
others were trapezoidal or rectangular. The faces that were
connected to an adjacent frame or to a hull plank were carefully
worked. On some of the framing timbers coating material and
tool marks, perhaps of an adze, were visible.
Sixteen hull planks made of r (Abies sp.) were exposed.
On average the hull planks were 17.6 cm wide and 3.2 cm
thick. Many of the planks had scorch marks on their inner
side, which might indicate ‘char-bending’. A single butt joint
was detected with traces of two iron nails, one from each side:
perhaps a repair. Apart from this, no planking edge joints
were found.
Eight stringers made of r were found xed to the framing
timbers by iron nails, as conrmed by XRF analysis
(Fe94.4wt%). They were on average 18.3 cm wide and 10cm
thick. Scorch marks were visible on the worked faces, along
with tool marks, which were especially apparent on the cham-
fered edges close to the eastern endpost. On the round face,
facing the interior of the hull, were remnants of branches, most
probably cut by an axe, and a thick layer of coating material.
One stringer had Greek letters and symbols carved into it, as
well as the word Allah in Arabic. The purpose of these marks is
not known: perhaps they are marks of the shipwrights or
The exposed section of the mast step assembly comprised
the mast step itself, longitudinal support timbers and a lateral
crutch (g.3). The mast step and support timbers were made
of walnut, and the crutch of r. The mast step was exposed for
3.5m, and it continued further into the sand. It was 25cm
wide and 19cm thick. Two mortises were cut into its upper
surface: the smaller one was 27 × 8 cm, and 12 cm deep,
Fig. 1: Location of Kibbutz Ma‘agan Mikhael and the Ma‘agan Mikhael B
shipwreck site (drawing N.Yoselevich).
Fig.2: A diver on the Ma‘agan Mikhael B shipwreck site (photography A.Yurman).
ARCHAEONAUTICA_21.indb 168 31/05/2021 11:06
Maayan Cohen, Michelle Creisher and Deborah Cvikel – The Maʻagan Mikhael B shipwreck
probably housing a stanchion supporting a mast partner. The
other mortise, measuring 37×10cm and 6cm deep, sloped
downwards towards the west. This mortise probably housed
the mast heel, and the slope suggests that the direction of the
bow was towards the east. The crutch had a rectangular recess,
about 32×9cm, apparently to house the heel of a stanchion
for the mast support.
Two transverse sets of vertical planks made of r were
found, most probably bulkheads. The eastern and western
bulkheads were located 13.8 m and 5.5 m from the western
apron respectively. The planks were typically 15cm wide and
4 cm thick. The longest plank projected 54 cm above the
Various types of nds were discovered during the excavation
seasons. They were documented on site, retrieved and regis-
tered, and are currently being studied.
Fifty-ve amphorae were identied inside the ship (g. 4a-b).
This primary cargo was composed of six different types of
amphora, including the types LRA 1, LRA 4, LRA 5, and
LRA13, as well as two types for which parallels have yet to be
found. Thin section petrographic analysis suggests clay from
Cyprus, Egypt and the Levant (Goren, personal communica-
tion, 2018). Some of the amphorae contained remains of their
original contents, including raisins or grapes, olives, dates,
pistachios, walnuts and pine nuts. In addition to the amphorae,
a large assemblage of shards, juglets, bowls and cooking wares
was found in the hull.
Fourteen inscriptions have been found either painted on or
incised in the pottery. The inscriptions are of Arabic and Greek
letters and Christian symbols, implying a diverse trade net-
work. Both Christian and Arabic symbols appear on one
specic type of amphora, the LRA 13, probably produced in
Cyprus (Demesticha 2005). The style of the Arabic inscriptions
suggests a date in the Umayyad period (660–750 AD) (Abadi,
personal communication, 2018).
Two reddish-brown clay bricks (Munsell 5YR 4/4 and 2.5YR
5/6) were discovered near the eastern bulkhead. Both had char-
ring marks, suggesting that they were part of the ship’s galley.
Petrography of the rectangular brick revealed the origin of the
clay to have been in Cyprus or the northern Levant.
Two rigging elements, apparently turning blocks, were found
amidships. They were 35cm long and 10cm wide. Both had a
rectangular cross section with chamfered edges and showed
evidence of tool marks. They comprised a single sheave and
Fig.3: Plan of the Ma‘agan Mikhael B shipwreck (drawing P.Sibella, adapted
by K.Asuli).
ARCHAEONAUTICA_21.indb 169 31/05/2021 11:06
Archaeonautica 21 – 2021
contained remains of rope. In addition, ve well-preserved
pieces of rope were found. All the ropes had three Z-twisted
strands with an average diameter of 33 mm. The rope bres
were identied as hemp, coir and bast of unidentiable species
(Rast-Eicher 2016). Further study is needed to gain an under-
standing of the rigging of the ship.
Wooden artefacts were also found: 1) A roundel, 10cm in
diameter and 4cm thick. Parallels to this were found in the Dor
2006 shipwreck and their use is still undetermined (Navri et al.
2013, p.314); 2) Two worked wooden objects were found at the
extremities of the hull, next to the aprons. The length of one of
the objects is 20cm, its maximum width 3.7 cm, tapering to
1.5cm. Their use is still unknown.
Eleven copper-lead alloy coins were discovered in the ship-
wreck and retrieved for study. Based on the portraits of
Constantine the Great, the coins were dated to the mid-4th cen-
tury AD. These coins were small change in circulation during
the 4th–6th centuries AD. In some cases, they can also be found
in contexts of the 7th century AD. Since coins are essentially
mobile, the ship’s origin and dating cannot be determined using
this information (Cohen et al. 2018).
The food remains, which may hint at various aspects of daily
life aboard a ship of this period, consisted of well-preserved
olive pits, walnuts, grape seeds, peach stones, carob pods and
pine cones (g. 4b). Animal bone remains were also found.
Among them were bones of goat, donkey, pigeon, chicken, sea
turtle and tortoise. The bones most probably indicate food
consumption. It is reasonable to suggest that at least some of it
was part of the crew’s diet.
The Mediterranean diet is based on food that is eaten
according to the season. In view of the apparent remnants of
fresh fruit found onboard, the ship seems to have sailed between
September and December.
Preliminary dating, based on 14C analysis and the typology of
the amphorae and ceramics, places the shipwreck in the
7th-8thcenturies AD. The dimensions of the Maʻagan Mikhael
B’s components can be compared to other shipwrecks of the
period (table 1). Considering the archaeological evidence, it
may be concluded that Maʻagan Mikhael B was smaller than
Pantano Longarini (31.5 m), but larger than Yassi Ada 1
(20.5m). She was perhaps closer in dimensions to those of the
Dor 2006. Based on the archaeological remains, it is suggested
that the ship was originally about 25m long, with a beam of
about 7m and draught about 3.5 m, and therefore capable of
carrying about 150 tons of cargo.
There is insufcient information as to the geometry of the
cross section of the hull to suggest the construction tradition of
the ship in the context of the transition from shell-rst to frame-
based. No planking edge joints have so far been found. As the
study of the hull construction continues, the picture will become
clearer and shed more light on the transition in ship
Fig.4: Amphorae: (a) Late Roman 13, in situ near the mast step (photography A.Yurman); (b) Late Roman 5 containing walnuts (photography A.Efremov).
ARCHAEONAUTICA_21.indb 170 31/05/2021 11:06
Maayan Cohen, Michelle Creisher and Deborah Cvikel – The Maʻagan Mikhael B shipwreck
The ship was a 25-m long merchantman with a cargo of
amphorae originating from various places, including Egypt and
Cyprus. The circumstances of the wrecking event are yet to be
determined. The Ma‘agan Mikhael B shipwreck promises to be
an exceptional source of information regarding various aspects
of ship construction, trading and economic activity, daily life,
and seamanship and seafaring in the Mediterranean in the late
7th-early 8th centuries AD.
The underwater excavations (IAA permits G-41/2016,
G-40/2017 and G-26/2018) and research of the Maʻagan
Table 1: Comparative study.
Shipwreck Date (century, AD)
length (m)
Frames: sided,
number, width,
thickness (mm)
Concept and
construction method
(based on Pomey et
al. 2012)
Dor D 350‑621 15‑19 200, 30 100‑110,
unspecified, 230 Not present
Shell hull concept,
mixed structural
concept and
Kahanov, Royal 2001;
Royal, Kahanov 2005;
Kahanov 2011a,
p.169‑178; Pomey etal.,
2012, p. 287 table 1
Tantura A End 5th –beginning
of 6th 12 38‑260, 25 90, 95, 324 Not present Frame concept
and construction
Kahanov 2001; Kahanov
etal. 2004, p.113‑118;
Kahanov 2011b,
p.139‑143; 2011a,
p.169‑178; Pomey et al.
2012, p.286, table 1.
Dor 2001/1 First third of 6th 16.9 50‑206, 20–33 75‑90, 85‑120,
240 Two, 125, 82.5 Frame concept
and construction
Mor, Kahanov 2006;
Kahanov 2011a, p.
169‑178; Pomey et al.
2012, p.287 table 1;
Kahanov, Mor 2014
Dor 2006 Mid‑6th –beginning
of 7th 25 75‑227, 20‑40 65‑250, 64‑480,
240 Four, 227, 89
Mixed shell‑and‑
frame concept and
Barkan et al. 2013; Navri
et al. 2013; Kahanov
etal. 2015
Yassi Ada 1 625 20.5 130‑250,
35‑42 140, 140, 300‑350 Unspecified, 80,
Mixed concept and
Steffy 1982, p.65–86;
van Doorninck 1982,
p.32–64; Pomey et al.
2012, p.287, table 1
Longarini Early 7th 31.5 140‑540, 50 180‑250, 180‑250,
Two large and
several light,
and number
Mixed concept
and construction
Throckmorton, Kapitän
1968; Throckmorton,
Throckmorton 1973;
Kampbell 2007; Pomey
etal. 2012, p.287, table 1
St Gervais 2 Second half of 7th 15–18 70‑260, 25‑30 110‑175, 160‑335,
250 Two, 90, 190
Skeleton concept and
construction, based on
Jézégou 1985, 1989;
Pomey etal. 2012, p.287,
table 1
Tantura F Mid‑7th –end 8th 15.7 80‑200, 25 80, 110, 310 Six, 150, 60
Skeleton concept
based on frames and
Barkai, Kahanov
2007; Kahanov 2011b,
p.143‑144; 2011a,
p.169‑178; Pomey etal.
2012, p.287, table 1;
Barkai, Kahanov 2016
Mikhael B 7th–8th 25 120‑230,
30‑34 120, 120, 440 Eight, 182.7, 100.5 To be determined
Tantura E 7th–9th 12.5 100‑210,
22‑28 100, 120, 260 Eight, 102.1, 45.3
Skeleton concept and
construction based on
Wachsmann, Kahanov
1997; Royal, Kahanov
2000; Kahanov 2011b, p.
145‑146; 2011c; Pomey
etal. 2012, p.287,
table1; Israeli, Kahanov
Tantura B Beginning of 9th 18‑23 40‑360, 30 92, 94, 260 Two, 125, 82.5
Skeleton concept and
construction based on
Wachsmann et al. 1997;
Kahanov 2000; Kahanov
etal. 2004; Kahanov
2011b, p.146‑150; Pomey
et al. 2012, p.287, table 1
Bozburun 874 14.3 30‑40, 40
Two starboard
Frame concept, mixed
Harpster 2002, 2005;
Pomey et al. 2012, p.287,
table 1
ARCHAEONAUTICA_21.indb 171 31/05/2021 11:06
Archaeonautica 21 – 2021
Mikhael B shipwreck are supported by the Israel Science
Foundation (grant no. 1891/16), the Honor Frost Foundation, a
Dov Shar Fellowship, a Natan Rotenstreich Scholarship, a Sir
Maurice Hatter Fellowship, the Research Authority of the
University of Haifa, and anonymous donors, to whom the authors
are grateful. The authors would like to thank B. Lorentzen,
S. Manning, R. Yeshurun, I. Abadi and Y. Goren for their
valuable assistance, and J.B. Tresman for the English editing.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The Tantura F shipwreck was discovered in 1996, and was excavated in 2004–2007. It was dated to between the mid 7th and the end of the 8th centuries AD. The remains comprised the bottom of the hull, including the lower part of the turn of the bilge on both sides and the beginning of the upward curvature at the bow and the stern. It was constructed based on frames. Among the finds were two anchors, 30 ceramic items, fish remains, food remnants, matting and ropes. The finds are of eastern Mediterranean and Egyptian origins. The Tantura F shipwreck is evidence of frame-first construction in the period. It is also evidence of a trade route along the Levant coast and of the existence of a settlement in the Dor region at that time.
The Dor 2006 Byzantine shipwreck was discovered in 2006, 800 m south of Dor (Tantura) lagoon, Israel, about 100 m offshore, in a water depth of 4 m, covered by sand. It was a large ship about 25 m long, and its timber remains spread over 10.5 m by 4.5 m. The shipwreck was dated between the mid-6th and the first quarter of the 7th centuries AD. Among the finds were remains of metal objects, comprising two coins, a lead sheet, and concretions of nails and a sickle. Metallurgical non-destructive and destructive analyses of the metal remains demonstrated that the coins were made of copper–lead alloy with a high concentration of lead, produced by casting, later stamped with coin die. The lead sheet was produced by casting, and later shaped into its final form. SEM-EDS, XRD, and XRF analyses revealed that the nail remains were essentially completely corroded iron. Analysis of the completely corroded sickle remains revealed that it was made of bloomery iron. It is suggested that the use of lead in the coins and tin in the lead sheet was due to economic constraints. Iron nails, although widespread, also indicate a preference for a cheaper metal than copper alloy. The lead isotope signature of the lead sheet indicates that the source of the ore was Greece or the Taurus Mountains, which may hint at the origin of the ship or her sailing routes. The ship was built during the period of the transition in ship construction from shell-first to frame-based. The reasons for this transition, which is a well-known process, have been explained only in abstract terms, such as economics, sociology and geography. The use of low-grade metals may be an example of economic pressure, and a specific explanation for the transition.
The ‘Dor 2006’ shipwreck was discovered in 2006 south of the Dor/Tantura lagoon, Israel. The hull remains are of a large ship that was unable to enter the shallow anchorage. Among the finds were 20 ceramic items, including bowls, cooking–pots, jugs, a juglet, lids and amphoras. The cargo has not yet been found. Pottery typology, coins and 14C tests of organic material date the shipwreck to between the second half of the 6th and the first quarter of the 7th centuries CE. The construction tradition is different from contemporary shipwrecks from Dor. Petrography and chemical composition analyses of the ceramics indicate an eastern Mediterranean origin.
During the excavation and analysis of a 6th-century AD vessel in Tantura Lagoon, Israel, members of the joint Institute of Nautical Archaeology and Center for Maritime Studies team located an Arab-Period vessel in the vicinity. The dating of the vessel to the 8th–9th century AD is based on pottery, found in association with timbers. Only a matter of days before the end of the excavation season, one end of the vessel was unearthed and preliminary recordings, drawings, and photographs were made. None of the timbers were removed from their in-situ positions for analysis as both time and facilities were not permitting. Though a full analysis was not possible, information gleaned during the several days of recording affords an understanding of the ship's construction.
The laboratory report for a wood-sample taken from one of the ship-timbers discovered at the Dor D site for C14 analysis is completed. This dating result indicates a potential revision for the group of timbers in this deposit and, consequently, new chronological contexts for their construction characteristics. Subsequent excavation and survey in the lagoon has resulted in a revised interpretation for the components of the Dor D deposit. Taken together, this new dating and contextual evidence helps to clarify what these timbers can and cannot contribute to the understanding of trends in ship construction.© 2005 The Nautical Archaeology Society
After the excavation of the 9th-century AD merchantman from Bozburun, Turkey, from 1995 to 1998, examination of the preserved hull material revealed a method of using dowels embedded in the plank edge to join hull planking together. This method has not previously been recorded in the early medieval Mediterranean. The article discusses the characteristics of the joints in the hull planking of the Bozburun vessel, and considers its role in the transition from the shell-first to frame-first methods of assembly.© 2005 The Nautical Archaeology Society
A relatively closely spaced set of unpegged mortise-and-tenon joints was the significant element revealed in the 7th-century AD shipwreck, Dor D. It provides additional information for the transitional period of shipbuilding in the Mediterranean, and together with additional wrecks it establishes a better database for ship construction in the 4th–11th centuries AD. The preliminary conclusions tend to draw a slightly more complicated picture of the general evolutionary trend, since they present some features that have traditionally been considered as a disappearing technique.
A Seventh-century Byzantine Shipwreck
  • Yassi Ada
Yassi Ada Volume 1. A Seventh-century Byzantine Shipwreck, College Station, Texas A&M University Press, p. 32-64.
) : un navire du haut Moyen-Âge construit sur squelette
  • L'épave Ii De L'anse Saint-Gervais À Fos-Sur-Mer
L'épave II de l'anse Saint-Gervais à Fos-sur-Mer (Bouches-du-Rhône) : un navire du haut Moyen-Âge construit sur squelette, in H. Tzalas (ed.), Tropis I, Proceedings of the 1 st International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity, Piraeus 1985, Athens, Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition, p. 139-146.