During the field season of 2008 and 2009 MR&C was invited by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology / Texas A&M University to join the excavation on the 7th-century BC Phoenician shipwreck off Cartagena, Spain. David Bouman worked as archaeological researcher and diver on this maritime archaeological project. The dives on the site yielded well-preserved elephant tusks with Phoenician inscriptions, amber and ceramics.
The 2008 field season got off to an auspicious beginning with the discovery of a unique fluted stone pedestal with a scroll capital top on the very first day of site work. Excavation yielded many objects from the three ships that wrecked at the site—Phoenician (7th to 6th century B.C.), Punic (2nd century B.C.), and Roman (1st century A.D.)— though Phoenician material predominated. The expedition recovered broken pieces of amphoras, bowls, plates, and other ceramic vessels, 10 elephant tusks, 28 small tin ingots and two more of copper, hundreds of galena (lead ore) nuggets, pine cones, and numerous large, round ballast stones. Of the ships themselves the team found over 100 metal fastenings, fragments of lead hull sheathing, and several small wooden structural elements believed to have been used in stowing the cargo. Recovered personal items belonging to one or more of the unfortunate crewmembers include a tiny stone cube that may be a gaming piece, and a stone rod that appears to be a whetstone. The latter bears what looks like Phoenician graffiti scratched onto its surface—quite possibly the owner’s name. The team also found several double-sided wooden combs; these however seem to be part of the cargo rather than grooming items used by the crew. In addition, several nuts and seeds, including an acorn, a hazelnut, and an olive pit, give some idea of the provisions carried on board for the crew’s sustenance.
Being completely exposed to wind and waves, the site is proving to be a challenging one. Unseasonably erratic weather this summer hampered the team’s work and cost it a good many days of diving. The many rocks and boulders littering the site also made excavation slow and demanding. In spite of these difficulties, the team made good progress and was able to excavate more than a meter deep in some areas. The deep sediment and good preservation of buried objects is encouraging and suggests that there could very well be significant hull remains from the shipwrecks. These, along with the vast majority of cargo and shipboard items, must be buried still deeper and await discovery.