Dead Sea anchors were carefully designed

The receding waters, in Lake Kinneret, uncovered the two wooden anchors, which were spotted by archaeologist Dr. Gideon Hadas during a stroll along the shore.

December 15, 2005 11:56
4 minute read.
anchor art 88

anchor art 88. (photo credit: )

Two remarkably well-preserved wooden anchors more than two millennia old, discovered recently on the shores of the Dead Sea, are now on view opposite the book shop at the Israel Museum, on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Over the last few decades, Israel's diversion of water from Lake Kinneret into the national water carrier has caused the progressive drop in the level of the Dead Sea, reducing its size by nearly half. The receding waters uncovered the two wooden anchors, which were spotted by archaeologist Dr. Gideon Hadas during a stroll along the shore. The first anchor, approximately 2,500 years old, was found where the Ein Gedi harbor was once located, and may have been used by the Jews of biblical Ein Gedi. The later anchor, some 2,000 years old, was constructed according to the best Roman technology and probably belonged to a large craft used by one of the rulers of Judea. As the sea recedes further, we may yet get to see the ship to which this anchor belonged. The 2000-year-old anchor, which originally weighed a massive 130 kg., is made from a Jujube tree and was reinforced with lead, iron and bronze. While the wooden parts are very well-preserved, its metal parts have disappeared almost entirely. Their traces have survived only in the crystals encasing the anchor. The design of the anchor is surprisingly modern: there are two flukes which were reinforced with a hook joint and a wooden plate fixed with wooden pegs, and a lead collar. The anchor also had a tripline, which was used to haul it out of the water. The ingenious earlier anchor, with some of its ropes still attached to it, is in an astonishing state of preservation. The oldest Dead Sea anchor known, it was made from the trunk of an acacia tree, with one of its branches sharpened to a point and originally reinforced with metal, to engage the seabed. Amazingly enough, most of the trunk is still covered in bark. The 12.5 meter-long ropes were made from date-palm fibers, each fashioned from three strands and lashed into grooves in the wood. Both anchors were weighted with a heavy stone lashed laterally. So it appears that the Dead Sea was once very much alive, a bustling trade route in ancient times. Ships carried salt, asphalt and agricultural goods, says David Mevorah, Curator of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Periods and curator of the special exhibit, who avers that it was the lack of oxygen in the Dead Sea water that preserved the wood of the anchors. In contrast, all that remains of ancient anchors found in the Mediterranean is their metal parts; the wooden elements rotted away. On display with the anchors are some local natural resources like a huge lump of pitch/asphalt and some salt - both expensive materials of the ancient world; in the days before refrigeration, salt was a necessity for preserving food. Also on view are 1,400 tiny Hellenist bronze coins from 80 BCE, probably dropped from a Hasmonean ship near the edge of the Dead Sea; and a copy of a mosaic map depicting ships sailing the Dead Sea. The original mosaic, with its clear plan of the Cardo in Jerusalem, decorated the floor of a 6th-century Byzantine church at Madaba in Jordan. The tiny coins on view are a reminder that the trade routes also had to be defended. The coins were found near the naval complex of towers and slipways constructed near the northern end of the sea during the reign of Alexander Yannai. They are just part of a hoard of tens of thousands that may have been intended to be payment for mercenaries defending the area against the Nabateans, who were menacing the eastern and southern shores of the Dead Sea. Each coin sports a two-armed anchor and the Greek inscription Of King Alexander. The reverse side has an eight-rayed star and the words Jonathan the King (the king's Hebrew name was Yonatan).

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