Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Red Sea Wreck Volume 49 Number 2, March/April 1996
by Cheryl Haldane

Investigation of a 165-foot-long ship that sank after hitting a coral reef off Egypt's Red Sea coast is providing new information about trade in the Ottoman period. Scholars from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities began excavating the wreck, near Sadana Island, last summer.

The site has yielded Chinese porcelain, glass wine bottles, copper cooking wares, large shipping jars, and more than 1,000 delicate pitchers and bottles. The porcelain, made for export to the Middle East, dates the Sadana shipwreck to ca. A.D. 1700. More than 300 porcelain objects have been found representing 20 different ceramic types. A securely provenanced and dated collection, it will help date Chinese artifacts of the same period found elsewhere. The ship was also carrying coffee beans, incense, coriander, and pepper, which are known from documents to have been traded, and coconuts, which are not attested in the historical record.

The trade route stretched from China across the Indian Ocean, through the Red Sea, over the Eastern Desert to the Nile by caravan, and by river to the port of Alexandria. The Sadana ship's origins remain unknown, though the porcelain came from China, the pepper from Indonesia, and the coffee from Yemen. Personal items often provide clues to the nationality of the ship's crew, but few such objects have been found. One dish bears the Arabic inscription "Sidi Ibrihim Khoderi," which may be the name of its owner. Study of the ship's unusual hull construction, which is unlike either European or Asian vessels of the time, may help determine its origins.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America