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Vessel Volumetrics and the Myth of the Cyclopean Bronze Age Ship

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The largest seagoing sailed merchantmen in the Mediterranean and Gulf during the Bronze Age (c. 3000-1150 BC) were probably not much larger than the ship that wrecked at Uluburun—about 20 tons capacity and 16 meters long. A 13th c. letter from Ugarit, long interpreted as indicative of much larger ships, is reinterpreted in the context of available texts, archaeology, and iconography. Available iconographical evidence points toward a 20 meter maximum length, and the evidence of the Uluburun shipwreck only nominally exceeds the maximum size of seagoing ships appearing in Mesopotamian records. Storage jars from shipwrecks, including those found at Uluburun, are used to address problematical aspects of the textual evidence, wherein the capacity of ships is given in volumetric units. Though problematic, all available evidence suggests that reconstructions of Bronze Age trade networks should assume smaller ship capacities. On se doute que les navires de commerce les plus larges – il s'agit des voiliers – naviguant sur la Méditerranée et le Golfe à l'Âge du Bronze (vers 3000-1150 av. J.-C.) ne furent pas plus grands que le vaisseau qui coula au large d'Uluburun (côte méridionale de la Turquie). Ce bateau-là a dû avoir une contenance d'environ 20 tonnes et une longueur de 16 mètres. Un passage se trouvant dans une lettre d'Ugarit datant du XIIIe s. av. J.-C. longuement interprété comme reflétant l'existence des vaisseaux beaucoup plus larges à cette époque-là, a été réinterprété dans le contexte des témoignages textuels, archéologiques et iconographiques disponibles. Tandisque l'iconographie suggère une longueur maximale de 20 mètres, l'épave d'Uluburun par contre correspond à peu près à la largeur maximale des navires de mer tels qu'ils figurent dans les documents Mésopotamiens. Les amphores sorties des épaves, y inclus celles d'Uluburun, servent à aborder des aspects problématiques des textes donnant la capacité des vaisseaux sous forme d'unités volumétriques. Or, en admettant que les l'interprétation des sources disponibles posent des difficultés, tout se porte à croire que la reconstruction des réseaux de commerce de l'Â ge de Bronze devrait être fait à base des capacités plus modestes.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Near Eastern Studies, Cornell University, New York


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