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Ship found off Israel’s coast could shed light on the navigation skills of ancient mariners

TEL AVIV, Israel — Amid escalating tensions with Hezbollah terrorists in northern Israel and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, a company drilling for natural gas off the coast of northern Israel discovered a 3,300-year-old ship and its cargo, one of the oldest known examples of a ship sailing far from land, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

The discovery of the late Bronze Age ship so far out at sea indicates that the navigation abilities of ancient seafarers were more advanced than previously thought because they could travel without a line of sight to land, the IAA said.

The great depth at which the ship was found means it has been left undisturbed by waves, currents or fishermen over the millennia, offering greater potential for research, it said.

“The discovery of this boat now changes our entire understanding of ancient mariner abilities. It is the very first to be found at such a great distance with no line of sight to any landmass,” said Jacob Sharvit, head of the IAA marine unit, adding that two similar ships from the same era had been discovered previously, but only close to shore.

Sharvit said the assumption by researchers until now has been that trade during that era was conducted by boats sailing close to the shore, keeping an eye on land while moving from port to port. He said the newly discovered boat’s sailors probably used the sun and the stars to find their way.

The wooden ship sank about 55 miles off Israel’s Mediterranean coast and was discovered at a depth of 1.1 miles by Energean, a natural gas company which operates a number of deep-sea natural gas fields in Israel’s territorial waters.

In its work, Energean said it uses a submersible robot to scour the sea floor. About a year ago, it came across the 39 to 45 foot-long ship buried under the muddy bottom, nestled under hundreds of jugs that were thousands of years old.

The boat and its cargo were fully intact, the IAA said, adding that the vessel appeared to have sunk either in a storm or after coming under attack by pirates.

The ship for now is not being retrieved.

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