The History and Significance of the Sadana Island Shipwreck

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The History and Significance of the Sadana Island Shipwreck

During 1995 to 1998, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), with the co-operation of the Supreme Council of Antiquities for Egypt (SCA), excavated an Ottoman period shipwreck at Sadana Island, just off the coast of the Red Sea. Inside, archaeologists found a wonderful collection of Qing Dynasty Chinese export porcelain, created for the Islamic market, as well as coffee, aromatic resin, spices, earthen-ware water jars, green glass bottles and other remains dating to the mid 18th century.

One of the reasons why the Sadana Island shipwreck is of high importance to archaeology and history is because it represents the trading links between China and the Middle East and the fact that the Ottomans were interested in maintaining dominance over the Red Sea commerce. Another reasons why it is of great interested is because it is the first major shipwreck excavation undertaken in Egyptian waters.

Ancient trade routes between China and the Middle East and Europe are well studied and documented; however, there is much less known about later trade links. Many Chinese good were fashioned for these destinations, the majority of it headed for Mecca, via way of Jeddah and the Sadana shipwreck is the representation of a trading link that stretched halfway around the world.

The Sadana Island shipwreck was found in 28 – 41 meters of water at the sandy base of a coral reef near a popular Red Sea diving resort. The ship sank with its bow pointed inland and heeled on its starboard side. And deep sand covered roughly half the hull.

Marine archaeologists performed over 5,000 dives in three excavation seasons to thoroughly document the wreck. Gigantic storage jars were once grouped together in the middle of the site. Porcelain, glass and copper artefacts that stretched along its deeper boundaries were removed. The major feature of this site is the ship itself. Its trenches stretch along the top (28-30m deep) and bottom (32-36m deep) of the site interconnect with three transverse trenches. “In addition to recording timbers in these trenches, team members raised representative fragments for study and subsequently buried them on site”.

Unfortunately, much of the original cargo was lost to natural destruction of the sea but over 4000 artefacts have been cared for at the Alexandria laboratory. Chinese porcelain and earthenware objects are the artefacts that have been mostly excavated including plates, dishes and cups.

The Sadana Island shipwreck has been crucial in scholars understanding of trade links between China and the Middle East during the Qing dynasty and gives us a ‘mini-history’ of this time.

Bibliography:

Ward, Cheryl (2001) The Sadana Island Shipwreck: An Eighteenth-Century AD Merchantman off the Red Sea Coast of Egypt, World Archaeology, Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

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