Ancient Wood and Almonds Help Reveal Decades-Old Shipwreck’s Sinking Date

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Jun 27, 2024

The Kyrenia shipwreck, discovered off the coast of Cyprus in 1965, has fascinated archaeologists for decades.

Initially believed to have sunk around 300 BC, new scientific methods have provided more precise dates.

First Glimpse of the Kyrenia Shipwreck

In 1965, local diver Andreas Cariolou stumbled upon the ancient Kyrenia shipwreck. This Greek Hellenistic-period vessel was excavated by marine archaeologist Michael Katzev and his team in the late 1960s.

Divers at Kyrenia Ship Excavation

Source: Kyrenia Ship Excavation

The well-preserved ship offered a treasure trove of artifacts, but its exact sinking date remained a mystery for years.

Initial Dating Attempts and Challenges

Early estimates based on pottery and coins suggested the ship sank between 294 BC and 290 BC. However, these dates were speculative, lacking scientific validation.

Students pictured aboard a research vessel stationed at sea

Source: Freepik

The challenge lay in the interference of polyethylene glycol (PEG), used to preserve the ship’s wood, which hindered accurate radiocarbon dating.

Overcoming Preservation Obstacles

Polyethylene glycol, injected to prevent the timber from crumbling, made radiocarbon dating difficult. Researchers developed a cleaning protocol in 2021 that successfully removed PEG from conserved wood.

An underwater photo of a scuba diver dressed in a black wetsuit with blue trim and wearing a full face dive mask. The diver is kneeling on the sandy ocean floor, actively engaged in examining or collecting samples with their bare hands

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This breakthrough allowed scientists to attempt dating the Kyrenia shipwreck’s wood samples accurately.

Radiocarbon Dating and Dendrochronology

By employing radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology, researchers could finally determine the ship’s age. These methods analyze organic materials and tree rings to establish precise timelines.

A photograph of two scientists working in a lab

Source: Freepik

The new study, published in PLOS One, pinpointed the ship’s sinking between 296 BC and 271 BC, with a strong probability of 286 BC to 272 BC.

Recalibrating the Radiocarbon Curve

The outdated Northern Hemisphere radiocarbon calibration curve posed another challenge.

A photograph of two researchers seated at their desk working

Source: Wikimedia

Researchers recalibrated it using sequoia and oak samples of known age from 400 BC to 250 BC. This revised curve was critical for achieving an accurate date range for the Kyrenia shipwreck.


Almonds and Other Organic Clues

The ship’s cargo provided additional dating clues. Ancient almonds, a twig, and an animal bone helped narrow down the timeline.

A treasure chest opening

Source: Ashin K Suresh/Unsplash

These organic materials, used as food or cargo, were likely only a year or two older than the ship’s final voyage, offering more precise dating.


Significance of Almonds in Dating

Lead author Sturt Manning highlighted the importance of cargo like almonds. These items, perishable and transported as food, helped establish a more accurate sinking date.

A photograph of a scientist in a lab working on a project

Source: Misha Friedman/Getty Images

The almonds indicated that the ship sank shortly after they were harvested and stored on board.


Implications for Archaeological Dating

This study’s findings have broader implications for dating ancient structures and shipwrecks.

A close-up of archeological tools lying on rocks and dirt.

Source: Jumbuk73/Pixabay

The new techniques and recalibrated radiocarbon curves offer more accurate dating methods. This advancement aids archaeologists in precisely dating artifacts from similar historical periods.


A Glimpse into Ancient Trade

The Kyrenia shipwreck offers a glimpse into ancient trade practices. The vessel’s mixed cargo, including amphorae, coins, and food items, suggests it was used by traders operating across cultures in the Mediterranean.

Close-up photograph of several piles of gold coins

Source: Freepik

This complex network connected different parts of the ancient world, much like today.


Continued Exploration and Discovery

As scientific methods advance, so does our understanding of the past. The Kyrenia shipwreck continues to be a subject of study, revealing new insights with each discovery.

Researchers looking at multiple monitors of the S.S. Nemesis

Source: CSIRO

These ongoing efforts emphasize the importance of preserving and studying ancient artifacts.


The Legacy of the Kyrenia Shipwreck

The Kyrenia shipwreck is not just an archaeological find. It’s a window into the ingenuity and resilience of ancient traders.

A blue seawater seen underneath a clear blue sky.

Source: Sarah Brown/Unsplash

With meticulous research and innovative techniques such as this, we unearth captivating stories from the past, illuminating history and its deep connections to our present.