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R. Pedersen - A survey for ahipwrecks, Submerged Settlements and Seafaring Technology in Bahrain - 2015


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The new publication by Ralph Pedersen, Honoray Member of IRIAE, about his underwater research in Bahrain. It is included as a chapter of the book Shipwrecks Around the World (Sila Tripati Editor).

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R. Pedersen - A survey for ahipwrecks, Submerged Settlements and Seafaring Technology in Bahrain - 2015

  1. 1. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST156A survey for shipwrecks, submerged settlements and seafaring technology in Bahrain Ralph K Pedersen, Institute of Nautical Archaeology, USA In 1993, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) began a 10 week survey in the waters of the Persian Gulf at Bahrain (Pedersen, 1993). The project examined various areas off the northern coast of Bahrain for evidence of shipwrecks and other underwater sites using the traditional archaeological diving methodologies of search and survey. As part of the project, local fishermen and pearl divers were interviewed for their knowledge of sailing conditions and lore. Additionally, sport divers of the local British expatriate community associated with the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) were interviewed. One shipwreck was found, potentially promising archaeological sites located, intriguing rumours and stories concerning the sea were revealed, and other possibilities for future archaeological research came to light in this ancient land where seafaring has been integral to life for thousands of years. Bahrain sits off the western coast of the Persian Gulf, about halfway along its length1 . The island of Bahrain is small, measuring just 16 km across, and from a broad northern coast it stretches south 48 km to end in a low sandy point. The highest point on the island is 134 m high. Bahrain actually consists of thirty three islands, most of which are uninhabited, sandy bars barely protruding above the water. The island group is dominated by three large islands: Bahrain proper, Sitra, and Muharraq (Fig. 1). It is these islands that have been the subject of settlement and civilization for millennia. Bahrain Island is unusual for the gulf, particularly its desiccated western coasts. Here, fresh water occurs in abundance, flowing from subterranean springs both on land and under the sea. The underground freshwater supply actually accounts for the name of the island, which means ‘two seas’, the salty one above and the sweet one below the island. The presence of sweet water has made parts of the island a lush garden, producing dates and other produce that has attracted seafarers down through the ages in their quest for trade and need for replenishment. Drinkable water was the fuel of ancient sailing vessels - without it the crew could survive only a few days before perishing. Thus, Bahrain with its dependable and copious water, conveniently located halfway between Mesopotamia and the Strait of Hormuz with the open sea beyond, organically grew into a maritime centre and a kingdom in its own right. The rich pearling grounds around the island only added to its wealth and importance. It is this commerce and activity that gives Bahrain its importance for nautical archaeological research. Early evidence of seafaring In 1953, a Danish expedition under the leadership of Geoffrey Bibby and P. V. Glob conducted the first major post-World War II archaeological investigations in Bahrain 8
  2. 2. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 157 (Glob, 1954: 92-105). The project would eventually research the Portuguese fortress, the Barbar Temple, as well as other sites on the island, discovering evidence of numerous periods including the ancient Dilmun civilization known previously from Mesopotamian texts dating as early as the third millennium BC (Potts, 1990: 83-89). The Danish expeditions uncovered houses and temples, and various artefacts ranging from ordinary ceramics to ornate bronze sculptures (Glob, 1956; and Mortensen, 1956). They also uncovered seals, which not only included those from Dilmun but also ones from Mesopotamia and the Harappan civilization based along the Indus River and in Gujarat in north-western India (Bibby, 1966: 92; and Glob, 1954: 103). The excavations by Bibby and Glob laid the foundation for future archaeological research in Bahrain and the wider Persian Gulf. Our knowledge of ancient seafaring in the gulf lies in the archaeological data - including artistic and textual evidence - from Bahrain, Mesopotamia and elsewhere Fig. 1 Map of Bahrain and the surrounding maritime environs, before the extensive land reclamation projects of the early 21st century. (R. Pedersen)
  3. 3. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST158 (Agius, 2008: 39). Various texts from Mesopotamia mention Dilmun as a place of bountiful water and a virtual paradise on earth. It is here that Utnaphistim, the Babylonian Noah, was settled by the gods after the Great Flood as a reward for building the ark and saving mankind (Glob, 1954: 102; Kovacs, 1989; and Pedersen, 2005). His ark was built in the traditional method of the Indian Ocean world, that is, by stitching the wooden hull members together with cordage (Pedersen, 2004a; 2005). This account in the Standard Version of the Epic of Gilgamesh is our only description of boat building from ancient Mesopotamian sources. Most likely, the ships of Dilmun, and other lands along the route reaching India were constructed with this method, which continued through the period of Medieval Arab seafaring into the twentieth century. It can still be found today in India in Karnataka, Kerala, and elsewhere (McGrail et al., 2003: 120, 167; Pedersen, 2004b; and Vosmer, 1997). The boat builders of the Indian Ocean world were conservative in their technology, passing down to the succeeding generations not only boat designs, but the boats themselves. Among the Arabs of the Persian Gulf, where boats could last a century and design changes were slow, there is ‘reason to believe that similar boats have sailed the same waters for over a thousand years’ (Le Baron Bowen Jr., 1949a: 22; Swamy, 1999: 125; and Pedersen, 2003: 17). The ships of the ancient Persian Gulf transported a wide range of goods to and from Mesopotamia and onward to the Indus Valley and the points between. Wood from India, along with copper from Oman, and numerous other goods from Mesopotamia and elsewhere were all transported on ships (Agius, 2008: 39-44; Glob, 1954: 104; Pedersen, 1993; Potts, 1990: 90-92). Bahrain, with its water supply and optimal position along the gulf, thrived from the sea traffic that came its way, serving as a middleman as well as producing in abundance the much coveted pearl (Agius, 2008: 71; Glob, 1954: 103). Generally, where there are boats, there are those lost under the sea, and traces of them or their cargoes should remain. Thus, Bahrain is an ideal place to search for ancient shipwrecks. The Survey: Underwater and elsewhere INA’s 1993 survey concentrated investigations off the north coast and north-western corner of Bahrain Island (Fig. 2). A planned investigation of a submerged jetty consisting of black pebbles located off the western side of the island was not possible due to the structure’s proximity to a secure compound. Investigation of the island’s eastern coast was also not possible. To chart our way and record locations of archaeological interest, we used GPS, the Global Positioning System, which in 1993 was only beginning to be used in archaeology. Ordinarily, one would have used traditional navigational methods, such as using compass and a sextant to find latitude and longitude. With the GPS, the press of a button gave us the same data, saving hours of training in the use of a sextant and eliminating human error. In the Arabian Gulf, a featureless sea with low lying coastal areas, longitude and latitude coordinates of wrecks and other sites are the best way to
  4. 4. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 159 relocate them once found. The GPS gave us the ability to easily fix coordinates, enabling us to return to any exact position, and we used the instrument extensively to record our diving areas and find spots of ceramics under the sea. The northern coast of the island was a centre of sea traffic from earliest times. Ships approaching Bahrain from the north would either pass by this coast on their way to settlements and cities on Bahrain such as Saar - now landlocked, but once a harbour settlement (Killick and Moon, 2005) or they would head into harbourage and anchorage near the Barbar Temple, the area of the Portuguese fortress, or sail down the west coast to points yet unknown. During the Hellenistic period at least, when Bahrain was known as ‘Tylos’, ships made use of a natural channel running through the reef off the Portuguese fortress at Qala’at al Bahrain. Wider afield, the northern Bahraini seas were the site of a battle in the 16th century between warships of the Ottomans and the Portuguese as both powers vied for control of the gulf lands and shipping lanes. A number of ships were supposedly destroyed in this battle, and archaeological research in the fields of warship construction and maritime related endeavours could be well served by the discovery of the remains of the conflict. There is, however, little evidence for the location of the battle, and the area was too large to search thoroughly via diving. No evidence of the Ottoman-Portuguese conflict was seen. Technological surveying, with the use of equipment such as side-scan sonar or sub- bottom profilers could reveal wrecks related to the battle, but this gear was not available Fig. 2 The northern section of Bahrain featuring the sites discussed in the text. (R. Pedersen)
  5. 5. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST160 to the survey. Explorations along Bahrain’s north coast revealed places on the seafloor containing scattered and broken ceramics. These occurred in clusters around reefs and other shallows indicating that they were material jettisoned from boats at anchor. This is a common practice when one drops a ceramic piece on a boat, one throws it overboard. In anchorages and harbourages, this detritus tends to pile up. All the cast-off pottery witnessed by the survey consisted of heavy walled, gray, crudely made utilitarian vessels of late date. In the Vicinity of Budaiya On the north-western corner of Bahrain Island is the village of Budaiya. This village contains a number of fishing boats from which local inhabitants make a living. Such places are steeped in nautical history and lore, and investigations in the area proved fruitful for our research. From diving, and talking with local people, we found a shipwreck, a possible submerged settlement site, an area of the sea floor containing a concentration of ceramics, and information concerning underwater features and exploration. Seaward from Budaiya, there is an area of the seafloor that appears to contain walls. Local fishermen believe these are the remains of houses under the sea. The clarity of the water readily revealed what seemed to be man-made walls in about 2 m of sea. The walls, some at right angles to others, were too deep to be fish traps, and such stone-built traps would be atypical for Bahrain as traps there are made of a fencing of poles. If this was a submerged settlement, the only times the sea would have been low enough to permit occupation would have been circa 1800 BC and 400 BC (Sanlaville and Paskoff, 1986). This area requires further investigation to determine its nature. Farther out from Budaiya is a channel of deeper water with a rocky bottom surrounded by reef. The channel is a natural feature that leads from the open sea to the village and continues south along the island’s western edge. This access to deep water explains the presence of the village it is reliant on the sea for its livelihood and the channel presents a geographical advantage. At the northern end of the channel its entrance is marked by a cairn of rocks so that ships may find the approaches to Budaiya. The cairn and the surrounding area have been explored by British sport divers who spotted stone anchors and ceramics in the vicinity. On at least one occasion, it was reported, electronic instruments recorded a curious underwater feature on the west side of the channel. The cairn and the immediate area were not investigated by the survey due to limitations of time. Southward down the channel is an area called Is Haileh, meaning ‘white sand’, or ‘clean sand’. This area has a number of undersea springs whose sweet water is brought to the surface via hollowed out palm trunks. Boats of all types come here to replenish their drinking supply. One of the fishermen from Budaiya found some ceramics at Is Haileh, including a ceramic teapot (Fig. 3 and 4). The site, in the sea west of Budaiya, is a coral head, one of many in the area, only about 1.5 m deep at low tide. The fisherman was able
  6. 6. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 161 Fig. 3 The fishermen at Is Haileh. The shallow water is typical of the area and makes for good anchorage as well as for placing fish traps. (R. Pedersen) Fig. 4 The teapot recovered from the sea by the fisherman. (R. Pedersen) to show to the survey the area where he found several sherds of ceramic vessels. He claimed there were many more sherds and intact pots below. Whether the ceramics represent a wreck or jettisoned material could not be determined, but the use of the area as a watering spot argues for the latter possibility. The teapot from Is Haileh was dated to the 14th century, and all the sherds were of the Islamic period. During a follow up examination of Is Haileh, the survey teamed with personnel from ‘TechDive’, a local diving company that provided invaluable support to the survey. Our goal was to make a drift dive - which
  7. 7. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST162 relies on the sea current to carry divers along in the Budaiya channel. This channel had a maximum depth of approximately 10 m. Diving consisted of two divers drifting south to north in a current of about 5 knots while holding a rope tethered to the surface support vessel. Despite the swift current and limited visibility of no more than 4 m, the team by chance crossed directly over a ceramic jug. Stopping to examine the jug - which was quite difficult given the current - a quick look determined no other artefacts could be seen within the immediate area. The ceramic vessel was raised to the surface for diagnostic purposes. Unfortunately the sediment inside the vessel was quickly lost upon reaching the surface, so no archaeobotanical analysis could be conducted on the silt within. The vessel itself (Fig. 5) was heavily encrusted on one side (2 cm) and less so on the other (2 to 3 mm). As the heavier encrustation was underneath the vessel as found, it apparently rolled there from another place, that is, it had first settled to the sea floor somewhere nearby but was later disturbed by nature or man. Further exploration of the area was not possible due the safety conditions related to the strong current. Fig. 5 The triphora found by the author in the sea off Budaiya. (R. Pedersen)
  8. 8. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 163 The ceramic jug was ovoid but slightly asymmetrical, with a pointed toe. The neck and handles of the jug were missing, but upon cleaning, the attachment points for three handles became visible on the shoulder. This was then not an amphora, a two handled vessel, but a ‘triphora’. The neck was broken off nearly completely. The toe was chipped and worn. There was no evidence of paint or a slip; however there was a decorative band in the fabric. This is a pair of parallel lines1.9 cm apart. Each was 1.9 mm wide and incised to a depth of 1 mm. The container measured 36 cm in length, 20.4 cm at its maximum diameter, and had a volume of 4.6 litres. The nearly non-existent stump of the neck had an outer diameter of 6.4 cm and inner of 4.5 cm. The handle-attachment points on the shoulder were each 3.5 cm in diameter and located approximately 2.5 cm from the edge of the neck opening. The fabric was coarse with large inclusions, light in colour, and approximately 9 mm thick. The triphora appears to be from a shipwreck known to the British expatriate divers as the ‘Amphora wreck’. This wreck lies in the same area where the triphora was located, and at least two similar vessels were reported to have been found there. Both of these were transported to Britain as souvenirs some decades ago. Sport divers reportedly also raised the neck and shoulder of another ceramic form, but the description given was not clear. The divers reported that the wreck was scattered but that more of these ceramic vessels can be found in the channel off Budaiya. No one recalled having seen any other artefact types in the area of the wreck, but they admitted they never examined the site closely. The date of the triphora, and therefore the shipwreck, is problematic as the ceramic form is largely unrecognized except in a general form - three- handled vessels appear to be common in the late Islamic era of the region. The local villagers, however, have a legend about a wrecking near the cairn at the northern end of the channel off Budaiya. The villagers claim a ship wrecked there ‘several generations’ ago. The British divers assumed this means about 100 years ago. The connection of this tale, the triphora, and the wreck found by the British sport divers is unproven, but the evidence points to the conclusion that our find, the British finds, and the wrecking story are indeed related. Information from a Pearl Diver Interviews with an old pearl diver yielded three areas of interest: An area known as the ‘Frying Pan’, another equated with mysterious disappearances of ships, and a zone containing underwater walls. The area called the ‘Frying Pan’ (Arabic name unknown) is located between islands of Muharraq and Sitra at the southern end of Khor Khaliyah (Fig. 2). The constriction between the islands causes conflicting currents during the change of tide causing the sea to ‘bubble like a frying pan’. Many ships have been lost there, according to the pearl diver, and sailors pass through the strait cautiously. Ships sailing to and from the ancient Dilmun capital, now located under Manama, would have passed through the strait between the islands and may have faced similar dangers as those encountered by
  9. 9. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST164 modern vessels. A channel, however, has been dredged through this area to a depth of 9.8 m, and this, combined with heavy sea traffic, would be a problem for any archaeological investigation there. The margins of the area have not been completely dredged, however, so there may be remains of ships in the unaffected zones. The pearl diver told of the existence of submerged walls near the island of Qassar al Qulay’ah, found to the west of the frying pan. The survey saw neither these - as the water was not entered - nor any overt evidence of occupation on the island. Aside from modern refuse and some nondescript ceramic sherds, the island appeared devoid of human activity. However, the island would have been the logical place for a lighthouse, or even a sentry post to guard the southern entrance to the bay. Further investigation may reveal such use of Qassar al Qulay’ah as well as the existence and nature of the walls. Another area mentioned by the pearl diver was called, at least in translation, the ‘Bermuda Triangle of the Gulf’. In this place in the open sea, two strong currents meet and, as a result many ships are lost. When sailors pass through this area, they sacrifice to the sea either a goat or a chicken as appeasement to the ‘Djinni’ for safe passage. The pearl diver stated this place is to the northeast of Bahrain, has no bottom, and mountains can be seen from there. This leads to the conclusion that the ‘triangle’ is far out in the gulf, within sight of Iran. The Bandar ad Dar Interviews Interviewing fishermen and divers has long been a method of gathering information for archaeological research, and the men in Bahrain who make their living from the sea proved to be valuable sources of data. On Sitra Island, Bandar ad Dar is a fishing port whose harbour is filled with traditional wooden working boats (Fig. 6). Interviews with Fig. 6 The fishing harbour on Sitra Island with its traditional wooden boats. (R. Pedersen)
  10. 10. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 165 the fishermen at Bandar ad Dar yielded four areas of potential archaeological interest. When queried if they knew of any pottery in the sea and whether they knew of any shipwrecks, several fishermen responded they had found pottery but, as they saw no value in it, they always threw it back. They could not pin-point locations. However, all agreed there were pottery and many wrecks to be found along Fasht al-Azm, a large reef reaching east from Bahrain toward Qatar. In addition, the fishermen named three other areas considered dangerous for ships and known to contain wrecks of recent dates. These are Halul (an island located between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates), Gaidat Bulyal, and Fasht al-Dibal (a reef between Bahrain and Qatar). Shipwrecks The survey was told of two shipwrecks found in the vicinity of Manama in the 20th century. Like many shipwrecks around the world these were found during construction and little was noted of them at the time. The first of these was found during the building of the coast guard station at the old Abu Mahir fort on Muharraq Island (Fig. 7). At one Fig. 7 A map of Muharraq as the shoreline existed in the early 1990s. (R. Pedersen)
  11. 11. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST166 point, possibly in the 16th or 17th centuries, the fort was sacked and burned, as apparently was a ship lying at anchor. The ship remains, found in the water adjacent to the fort, showed signs of fire. The keel and several other timbers were noted by the discoverers, as were five cannons. The cannons were removed, and are now displayed at the reconstructed facade of the fort and at the entrance to the Bahrain National Museum. The wreck itself was left in place and now lies under the concrete wharf along the waterfront of the fort. Attributes of the wreck were not recorded. Other wrecks of the same period and battle may lie in the small, shallow bay between Abu Mahir Fort and Arad Fort, but this has not been investigated. A number of ceramics have been reportedly found in the bay, but these may be simply the detritus of ordinary harbour activity and not indicative of wrecks. The second shipwreck is located under a buoy just off the Dhow harbour on Manama’s northern shore. The wreck of unknown date was discovered some decades ago during the dredging of a channel. Older residents remember large ship timbers being hauled off the sea bottom, which were neither recorded nor preserved. Whether any parts of this shipwreck remain underwater is unclear, but as the site is marked by a buoy, some of it may still be extant. The Flats near the Portuguese Fortress On the central northern coast of Bahrain lie the ruins of the Portuguese fortress known as Qala’at al-Bahrain. This site has been occupied since antiquity, as excavations have revealed strata dating to the Dilmun Period (late third/early second millennium BC), the Hellenistic period (late first millennium BC), the period of Portuguese occupation, and through the late Islamic era. The Portuguese, in their expansion into the Indian Ocean beginning in the late 1490s, established forts in Bahrain and elsewhere in the gulf, and battled Ottoman Turks for control of the Persian Gulf. The fortresses were ultimately abandoned as Portuguese power in the region faded. The seafront at the Portuguese fortress is a tidal flat of mud and reef extending north approximately one km. At high tide, water covers it to a depth of about one meter. At low tide, the flats are exposed. The mud may be a meter, or more, deep in some places. Running through the flats is a channel. Although it is silting up, the channel once gave the fortress and city access to the sea. The Danish expedition of Glob and Bibby noted a slipway for servicing or launching ships at the landward end of the channel. The channel was explored by the survey as far as was permissible due to conditions of reef growth and siltation. During Hellenistic Tylos, there was a Pharos, or lighthouse, at the opening of the channel on the western corner. This area of the Pharos was examined for evidence of this construction. Examination of the top of the reef, as well as the surrounding environs for cut stone blocks yielded no trace of the lighthouse, nor any objects that could be associated with it. Either the materials were long ago scavenged, or the ruins lie under sand in the channel or overgrown by the reef. Similarly, no evidence of ships or shipping was seen in the channel. High degrees of siltation were occurring at the time due to a land filling project to the east of the channel,
  12. 12. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 167 which greatly obscured features. Throughout the northern zone, silt was observed lying over various reefs, killing them, and in the channel linking the Hellenistic settlement with the sea a great amount of sand was building up. Indeed, over the subsequent years after the survey, much of the northern coast of Bahrain and the island of Muharraq have been greatly modified by massive land reclamation projects obliterating the ancient seabed. The Hellenistic settlement, as well as the earlier phases of the site, certainly would have used a number of ships and boats in the servicing of their city. The flats lying north of the city may contain watercraft abandoned after they outlived their usefulness as it is common practice among maritime people to simply abandon worn out boats in harbours, on beaches, and flats. Evidence of such abandonment of hulls could be seen during the survey. A modern fibreglass-on-wood-frame boat was left a few hundred meters north of the fort where it was slowly disintegrating and sinking into the mud. There is the potential of finding ancient vessels similarly abandoned on the flats, although modern reclamation, dredging, and construction threaten this area. Traditional Boat Yards: Repositories of Technology As mentioned, boats of traditional shape and technology sailed the Persian Gulf from ancient times into the modern period. Much ancient technology has fallen into disuse in the face of the simpler European nailing techniques, that is, using iron nails to fasten planks onto a framework. Indeed wooden boats of any form are in danger of obsolescence and extinction due to the spread of inexpensive, more durable fibreglass hulls. The traditional boatyards of Bahrain and Muharraq Islands, however, still contain invaluable information on methods of wooden boat building in the Persian Gulf. Thus, boat yards were visited by the survey to observe the construction of wooden watercraft. Evidently, with the demise of the age-old sewing technique in Bahrain, two boat construction methods have taken its place. The first, as noted by R. Le Baron Bowen Jr. in the mid-twentieth century, is a typical frame-first construction in which no plans are used and frames are set up on the keel based on the builder’s eye for proportion: ...Every other rib runs through the keel; alternate ribs start on each side of the keel. The planks are put on in more or less logical order, but no attempt is made to fit or spile them. When they have finished running the planks, there are a lot of little spaces, maybe one inch by six inches that are filled in with little patches. All planks and patches are nailed on with large-headed hand-wrought iron nails clinched over on the inside of the ribs; stains of these nails streak down the outside of the hull (Le Baron Bowen Jr., 1949b: 109, 111). The boats are rubbed above the waterline with fish oil ‘appalling in its pungency’, while below the waterline a ‘mixture of lime and tallow in a thick paste’ is smeared on (Le Baron Bowen Jr., 1949b: 109, 111). The second technique is one that was witnessed by the INA survey in 1993. It is a method that uses a system of external moulds to first partly
  13. 13. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST168 create the shell, or outer skin, of the boat, and then adds the internal framework. First the keel was laid level, followed by the erection of the stem and post and their attachment to either end of the keel. Next, moulds were set up. These were nailed to the keel at intervals seemingly judged by eye (Fig. 8). While many of the moulds were short, single component members, a pair of master moulds comprising several components were erected, one forward of amidships and one aft (Fig. 9). The master moulds outlined the shape of the vessel up through the sheer line of the hull. These combined with the shorter moulding members to create an external framework and shape for the planks to follow. The next step was the installation of the garboards - the strakes closest to the keel - which were fastened to the keel with iron nails. The garboards laid the foundation for the rest of the planking to follow. Then, the planks comprising the second strake were fitted to the garboards edge to edge. The planks were pulled and bent onto the hull shape created by the moulds, clamped in place, and nailed to the moulds. Planks were added to the hull in a similar manner until the turn of the bilge, that is, where the bottom of the boat turns into the sides. Once the turn of the bilge was reached, floors were inserted. These timbers reached from side to side and ran across the keel. They were secured from the outside with the few nails needed to hold them in place until the shell and the framing was completed. The external moulds on the hull’s bottom were left in place throughout the Fig. 8 Boat construction using external moulds to shape the hull. Here short moulds are seen nailed to the keel of the vessel yielding a predetermined form for the planking to follow. (R. Pedersen)
  14. 14. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 169 process. More moulds of varying length were added as needed, nailed to the outer face of the planking as strakes were completed. These additional moulds formed the shape of the sides as they would reach toward the sheer line of the hull. Additional planking was then added and fastened to the moulds, creating the sides of the boat. Futtocks (the upper parts of the internal frames) were inserted, adding to the internal framework as the sides reached completion. In this way, the shell and internal framework were completed simultaneously, following the shape created by the master and secondary moulds. The boat was thus not a true shell-first construction, and not a true frame-first construction, but a hybrid bridging the two techniques. Framing followed shell, shell followed framing, and both followed the predetermined shape created by the system of moulds. With the shell finished, holes were drilled through the planking and frames. Large iron spikes were driven through the holes, their ends protruding from the frames inside. The spike ends were then double-clenched, that is, bent over twice, in a herringbone pattern. After the planking and frames were firmly fastened together, the external moulds were removed from the hull for use on the next vessel to be built. This reuse creates a conservative hull shape among vessels from the same yard, as there is little variation between boats built with the same moulds. The main variance would occur due to the placement of the moulds along the keel line. Whether there was any measuring system governing their Fig. 9 The short moulds and one of the master moulds. The combination of the two gives the vessel its shape as the planking is nailed to the mould up to the sheerline of the vessel. (R. Pedersen)
  15. 15. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST170 linear placement is not known, as already mentioned. Given the experience of the shipbuilders, however, varying mould placement due to a lack of standard measurement procedures would have produced only minimal differences in boat shape. How old this method of boat construction is has not been discovered. Ethnographical records of boat construction in the Persian Gulf are scant, and historical records about the topic are nearly non-existent. It is possible, if not probable, that this method evolved as the stitching of planking fell out of fashion and nailing melded with aspects of ancient shipbuilding techniques. For the finishing touch, after the superstructure and internal utilitarian features were constructed, the outside of the hull below the waterline was smeared with a mixture of lime and fat that acted as a sealant and as well as an anti-fouling coating. This layer is properly called a ‘paying’. The upper works were preserved and waterproofed with oil. This is an ancient technique, related by numerous medieval travellers to the region, by Le Baron Bowen as related above, and recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh (Pedersen, 2004a: 236). Islands in the Desert The Danish expeditions to Bahrain led by Bibby and Glob ventured into the southern reaches of Bahrain island and discovered a hillock at Ras al-Jazayir that was covered with a midden of oyster shells. This midden was associated with Dilmun-period ceramics, charcoal, fish bones and assorted mollusk shells (Nielsen, 1958: 159-160). The hillock, and others like it, was, the Danes found out, an island during ancient times, becoming landlocked due to changes over the centuries in the relative sea level of one to two meters (Nielsen, 1958: 158; Sanlaville and Paskoff, 1986b: 15-24). Clearly, this former island had been a place where ancient seafarers in small boats had put ashore to shuck the oysters they had gathered to claim the gem within (Nielsen, 1958: 158-160). Pearling has long been one of the professions of Bahrain, only to cease with the petroleum age. The mound discovered by the Danes confirmed the industry’s long presence in Bahrain (Nielsen, 1958: 160). The shell midden, located some 4 to 5 km. off the main island’s coast in the Dilmun period, now lies 1 km. from the sea, and contained flints, small stone columns, and pottery from the third millennium BC (Glob, 1957: 125-127). Teaming up with Robert Killick and Jane Moon, then the leaders of the London-Bahrain Archaeological expedition excavating the Dilmun city at Saar (Killick and Moon, 2005), we decided to find and examine anew the former island found by the Danish expedition in 1957. Killick suggested we try to locate two places: the shell midden excavated by the Danes (Glob, 1957: 157; Potts, 1990: 208); and an Ubaid site, a low mound nearly 1.5 km from the sea but believed to have once been an island (Roaf, 1974: 499). Over 6,000 years ago, the Neolithic people of the Ubaid culture spread south from Mesopotamia to the southern reaches of the gulf (Oates, 1986: 80) and Ubaidians could only have reached Bahrain by boat. The site was said to be ‘barely distinguishable from the surrounding sandy desert
  16. 16. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 171 except for the numerous chips of flint and shell on the surface which cover an area of at least 100m in diameter’ (Roaf, 1974: 499). Its hallmarks include various fish bones, forms of pottery, goat and dugong bones, and a number of tools (Roaf, 1974: 501). It was excavated by the British in the 1970s and dates to about 4,000 BC (Larsen, 1986: d42; Roaf, 1974), making it not only one of the oldest identified sites on the island but probably the oldest maritime related site in Bahrain. Both sites are located in sabkha, the sandy flats once part of the sea on Bahrain’s southwest coast. To locate the two sites, we would use the GPS that we had been using on the sea. For this, we needed the longitude and latitude coordinates of each place, information which was not published or at least not immediately available to us. However, a simple map from a book showed the general longitude and latitude positions we needed. The sites were marked by dots, which are in scale about 500 m in diameter. We were able to estimate coordinates for both sites, but we did not know how precisely the sites were marked on the map. Thus, our figures contained a potential half km error at minimum. Furthermore, the GPS signal in the gulf at the time had a degraded accuracy to no less than 150 m. Thus, even if our calculations from the map were exact, the GPS could still place us well off the mark. It was worth pursuing, however. A few years earlier, a team of archaeologists and explorers used GPS to find their way through the desert of Oman in their search for the fabled lost city of Ubar. Flying by helicopter and guided by GPS, the search team was able to locate ancient caravan tracks that had been spotted with radar from the space shuttle Challenger. These tracks proved to be part of the old network that linked the cities of southern Arabia and led the expedition to the lost city (Blom et al., 1997). We hoped for similar success with our GPS. Thus, with our derived coordinates, we headed into the desert. As we sped south, the GPS screen displayed the distance between us and the longitude/latitude coordinates we had derived for the site, and the unit’s direction finder kept our course straight through the featureless sands. Guided by the signal from outer space, we turned off the road onto desert pathways somewhere near the Ubaid site. We then proceeded by foot over gently rolling dunes, only to find our way blocked by a chain-link fence enclosing a camel herd. Somewhere beyond the perimeter lay the Ubaid site. This objective was out of bounds and we turned our sights to the Dilmun-period site with its midden of oyster shells. Returning to the road we travelled southward through the sabkha toward our second target until the GPS indicated that we had arrived at the position calculated from the map. We were again on the sabkha, this time only meters away from a camel-racing track stretching into the desert. There was no mound, only the white fencing around the track and the flat, shell-littered sand of the ancient seabed. We feared the midden had been destroyed to make way for camel races. Scanning our surroundings with binoculars we could see to the east several low dunes containing no piles of shell, which still glitter in the sun even after millennia of exposure. More distant features blurred in the hot air rising from the sand. Southward, beyond the
  17. 17. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST172 far turn of the racetrack, we spotted a hillock rising prominently and promisingly over the desert. We headed there. Upon reaching the hillock we saw it was a natural sand mound with piles of oyster shells on top (Fig. 10). Searching around the compacted shells, in some places over a meter deep, we found numerous pottery sherds of the Dilmun period. Standing atop the pile of oyster shells, we could see the waters of the gulf a km to the west. Its western section had been bulldozed away, but the outline of the surviving section of the mound was visible against the flat of the sabkha. Clearly, this was an ancient island that had been used by oystermen. The gently rising strand on the island’s east face, where the ancient mariners must have beached their boats, lay between the piles of shells and the ancient seabed. Somewhere on this island ancient pearl divers had made camp to shuck oysters and harvest pearls. We had found a midden of the correct age, but we could not tell whether it was the same one that the Danish team had found and excavated. The remaining section of our midden was small - the one the Danes studied was 5.5 m high and covered an area 200 by 100 m (Nielsen, 1958: 157). Although there was a degree of error in our estimate of the coordinates, the midden we stood on was close to the position we had derived. It is Fig. 10 The midden the survey located in Bahrain’s desert. Oyster shells litter the former island and still glitter in the sun after millennia. (R. Pedersen)
  18. 18. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 173 possible that the bulk of the Danes’ midden was destroyed by the construction of the camel race track. The western section of the mound and midden we found had been completely cut down to ground level by construction machinery, so perhaps we discovered only the remains of the larger feature (Fig. 11). Yet, to the south lay several other hillocks. Fig. 11 The western, surviving edge of the island and midden after being cut through by earth-moving machinery. (R. Pedersen)
  19. 19. SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD: REVELATIONS OF THE PAST174 Was one of those the actual midden we sought? Or were these other mounds seen by the Danes but not investigated, which they felt were similar former island sites (Nielsen, 1958: 160)? We could not tell. The day was ending and we turned back north to home and base. The ancient island in the sabkha and its possible accompanying neighbours await further research. Results and Conclusions Bahrain with its long history of seafaring is a promising area for research into the nautical archaeology of the Persian Gulf. It is impossible to estimate the number of ships that have sailed the island’s waters over the millennia, but where ships sail, they also sink. Undoubtedly, more than the few shipwrecks found by or reported to our survey exist in these waters. Further research is required to trace down the rumours, verify stories, and find the actual shipwrecks that must exist in the Persian Gulf. Although the seas around Bahrain are shallow - always a negative factor for shipwreck preservation - the existence of the Triphora wreck argues that wrecked ships can and do survive in Bahraini waters. A comprehensive underwater survey utilizing modern remote-sensing techniques such as multi-beam sonar would be invaluable to creating the data needed to find shipwrecks, further our understanding of the sea and land morphology of the islands, and add significantly to our knowledge of some of the world’s oldest maritime trading routes. Acknowledgements This project was generously funded by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and made possible by the kind assistance of the Bahrain Ministry of Information, the Bahrain National Museum, BAPCO, Kevin Patience, Robert Killick, Jane Moon, James Coggeshall, and the many interested and enthusiastic individuals in Bahrain. I particularly thank Abdulaziz Soweileh, superintendent of archaeology for his friendship and aid. Endnotes 1 The gulf is also known as the ‘Arabian Gulf’ but here the traditional Classical terminology is used. References Agius, D. A., 2008. Classic Ships of Islam. Brill, Leiden. Bibby, G., 1966. Arabian Gulf Archaeology. Kuml, 90-95. Blom, R., Crippen, R., Elachi, C., and Clapp, N., 1997. Space Technology and the Discovery of the Lost City of Ubar. Proceedings of the Aerospace Conference, IEEE Xplore Digital Library, Vol. 1: 19-28. Glob, P. V., 1957. Snake Sacrifices in Bahrain’s Ancient Capital. Kuml, 125-127. Glob, P. V., 1956. A Neo-Babylonian Burial from Bahrain’s Prehistoric Capital. Kuml, 172-174. Glob, P. V., 1954. Bahrain - Island of the Hundred Thousand Burial-Mounds. Kuml, 100-105.
  20. 20. A SURVEY FOR SHIPWRECKS, SUBMERGED SETTLEMENTS AND SEAFARING ... 175 Killick, R., and Moon, J., (Eds.), 2005. The Early Dilmun Settlement at Saar. Archaeology International, Ludlow. Kovacs, M., 1989. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford University Press, Stanford. Larsen, C. E., 1986. Variation in Holocene Land Use Patterns on the Bahrain Islands: Construction of a Land Use Model. In Haya Ali Khalifa and Michael Rice (Eds.), Bahrain Through the Ages: The Archaeology, KPI Limited, London: 25-46. Le Baron Bowen Jr., R., 1949a. Arab Dhows of Eastern Arabia. Private Printing. Le Baron Bowen Jr., R., 1949b. Arab Dhows of Eastern Arabia. American Neptune, Vol. 9: 87- 132. McGrail, S., Blue, L., Kentley, E., and Palmer, C., 2003. Boats of South Asia. Routledge Curzon, London. Mortensen, P., 1956. The Temple Oval at Barbar. Kuml, 195-198. Nielsen, V., 1958. Famed for its Many Pearls. Kuml, 157-161. Oates, J., 1986. The Gulf in Prehistory. In Haya Ali Khalifa and Michael Rice (Eds.), Bahrain Through the Ages: The Archaeology, KPI Limited, London: 79-86. Pedersen, R. K., 2005. Was Noah’s Ark a Sewn Boat? Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 31 (3): 18-56. Pedersen, R. K., 2004a. Traditional Arabian Watercraft and the Ark of the Gilgamesh Epic: interpretations and realizations. In Michael MacDonald (Ed.), Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, Archaeopress, Oxford: 231-238. Pedersen, R. K., 2004b. The Shipwreck in a Coconut Grove: The Kadakkarapally Boat. The INA Quarterly, Vol. 31 (2): 3-9. Pedersen, R. K., 2003. The Boat-building Sequence in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Sewn Boat Relation. Texas A&M University, Texas. Pedersen, R. K., 1993. The Ships of Eden: Nautical Archaeology in Bahrain. INA Quarterly, Vol. 20 (2): 13-18. Potts, D. T., 1990. The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity. Volume 1. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Roaf, M., (1974). Excavations at Al Markh, Bahrain: A fish midden of the fourth millennium BC. Paleorient, Vol. 2 (2): 499-501. Sanlaville, P., and Paskoff, R., 1986. Shoreline Changes in Bahrain since the Beginning of Human Occupation. In Haya Ali Khalifa and Michael Rice (Eds.), Bahrain Through the Ages: The Archaeology, KPI Limited, London: 15-24. Swamy, L. N., 1999. Traditional Boats of Karnataka and their Building Practices. In K. S. Behera (Ed.), Maritime Heritage of India, Aryan Books International, New Delhi: 116-142. Vosmer, T., 1997. Indigenous fishing craft of Oman. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Vol. 26 (3): 217-235. Ralph K Pedersen is the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst Gastdozent for Nautical Archaeology at Philipps-Universität Marburg. Previously, he served as Distinguished Visiting Professor in Anthropology and Knapp Chair in Liberal Arts at the University of San Diego and the Whittlesey Chair Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut. Dr. Pedersen has excavated a 1500 year old shipwreck at Black Assarca Island, Eritrea; surveyed shipwrecks off New York’s Long Island, and served as an Associate Director of India’s Kadakkarapally Boat Project. He has also conducted extensive research in Lebanon. He has been a Research Associate with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology since 1992. Dr. Pedersen holds a doctorate from the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University. Email:
  21. 21. First published in 2015