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Bronze-Age Boat Sailors Are Rescued

September 9, 2005

NEW DELHI — International researchers attempting to sail 600 miles in a Bronze Age-style reed boat had to be rescued from the Arabian Sea after the vessel started to capsize, an Indian navy official said Friday.

The eight-member crew, including two Americans, left Sur, Oman, on Wednesday aboard the 40-foot boat made from reeds, date-palm fibers and tar, with a wool sail and two teak oars. Their goal: to follow what archaeologists believe was a Bronze Age trade route, ending in the historic Indian port of Mandvi.

Shadowing the reed boat for its protection were vessels from the Sultanate of Oman and the Indian navy. About seven miles into the trip, the reed boat met with “an accident” and started to take on water, said Cmdr. B.K. Garg, an Indian navy spokesman.

The sultanate’s boat rescued the crew and returned them unharmed to Oman, Garg said. He had no further details about what caused the accident or the condition of the vessel.

“The sail has been terminated for the time being,” Garg said.

The project was funded by Oman and some private organizations. Participants included archaeologist Gregory L. Possehl, a curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia; Maurizio Tosi of the University of Bologna; and Serge Cleuziou of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.

Plans for the trip started after excavations in eastern Saudi Arabia turned up fragments of bitumen, or tar, bearing impressions of bound reeds, rope lashings and barnacles.

Researchers hailed the find as direct evidence of boat construction in the Arabian Sea during the Bronze Age and built their vessel based on that evidence, along with ancient texts and images.

Two days before the sail, Tom Vosmer, the vessel’s director of design and construction, acknowledged that the boat – dubbed the Magan after an ancient name for Oman – provided little protection.

Vosmer said Monday that although weather forecasts were favorable, there was always the danger of a large wave swamping the vessel. He was also concerned about an early leak that needed re-tarring.

“The boat seems good, but it’s completely untried,” Vosmer said. “We don’t know what it’s going to do when we get into the big seas in the Indian Ocean.”

Just in case, the vessel was equipped with an emergency life raft and life jackets, an emergency beacon, the navigation equipment and lights, a radar reflector and a bilge pump.

The eight-member crew consisted of Vosmer and the navigator, both Americans; a sailing master from Australia; two Omani seamen; two Italian graduate students; and an Indian archaeologist.

Researchers had hoped the voyage would help them learn about Bronze age boat construction techniques, as well as how well such boats worked, how to sail them, and what life aboard such a vessel might have been like.

Associated Press writer Ron Todt from Philadelphia contributed to this report.

On the Net:

http://www.museum.upenn.edu/




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