The UV leads the extraction of a Phoenician boat in Mazarrón, Murcia

UV experts in underwater archaeology and naval architecture Agustín Díez and Carlos de Juan are finishing the preparations for the delicate rescue of the 2,600-year-old vessel. The Department of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History of the Universitat de València leads this project, as a result of the collaboration with the Local Government of Murcia.

Around 600 BC, a Phoenician boat sank off the coast of Mazarrón a few metres from the shore. A sudden storm descended on La Playa de la Isla, which is sheltered and usually harbours calm waters, wrecking the vessel. After only a few hours, the sand had completely engulfed it, not even allowing the valuable cargo of litharge ingots to be rescued. Researcher Carlos de Juan explains, "This sandy substratum is the chest that has preserved it to this day. What was, at the time, a great misfortune, is today a great blessing for archaeology."

Thanks to the speed with which the vessel was buried and the preventive conservation work carried out in recent years, in which the UV has played a key role, the Mazarrón II, as the wreckage has been christened, is in an excellent state of preservation, ready to tell us about what life was like on the Mediterranean coasts 2,600 years ago.

The team, led by Agustín Diez, Head of the UV Department of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History, has carried out an in-depth study to determine the state of preservation of the wood and has developed a plan to extract the wreck. All of which is part of the integral project of the research, preservation, treatment and dissemination of the Phoenician shipwreck, Mazarrón II.

"The anthropisation of the coastline has made it urgently necessary to retrieve the wreck"

Carlos de Juan explains that the preservation conditions have recently been altered by human action. "The protection by the sand that the wreckage enjoyed for centuries has changed in recent decades due to the anthropisation of the coastline. Coastal constructions have been erected without appropriate prior studies and the sea current has changed, thus created scenario in which the wreck must be urgently rescued. The wreckage can no longer remain where it is because its sand protection is now disappearing. The wreckage has survived for centuries, but now it is time to roll up our selves and ensure that we can continue to enjoy this asset of cultural interest."

In September 2024, the extraction work is expected to begin - a complex process that will allow the Mazarrón II to see the sunlight again, more than two and a half millennia since the shipwreck. "From the data obtained on the actual state of the boat - the cracks and fissures - we have developed the best methodology to extract the wreck from the sea while ensuring its preservation and safety," explains Agustín Díez, main researcher of the project. The boat, located 2.5 metres below sea level, will be extracted from the sea in twenty parts, which will be taken to the laboratories of the Cartagena National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (ARQVA) for reconstruction.

"The entire Department of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History of the UV has been involved in this project"

It is a delicate and complex task that bears a great responsibility, but the project manager assures that he has "complete faith" in his research team. The project manager is aware that a lot of attention is focused on the extraction of the wreck because it is such an archaeological treasure. " We have a great team with loads of experience and expertise that will be able to face any issues that may arise," says Agustín Diez. "The entire Department of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History of the UV has been, is or will be involved in this project, and we are fortunate to have so many great specialists to cover any needs that may arise," he says.

"Carlos de Juan has actively participated in the water-related field work and Yolanda Carrión has been involved in identifying the wood. Every member of the department will participate in some way according to the materials that are extracted and the challenges we may face," explains Agustín Díez. For instance, "if a seed is found, we will call seed specialist, Guillem Pérez. If a unique ceramic piece is uncovered, we will call Carlos Gómez Bellard, and so on. Fortunately, in the Department of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History of the UV , we have many researchers prepared to face any archaeological challenge that may arise," says the Head of the Department in charge of the project.

"Institutional cooperation is crucial, especially in cases such as the sunken vessel, where responsibilities are shared between different institutions"

This project is the result of an agreement between the Universitat de València and the Governing Council of the Region of Murcia. "Not only does it allow us to learn more about our history, but it also highlights the importance of institutional collaboration and interdisciplinary work in scientific research," states Vice-Principal for Culture of the UV Ester Alba. "This project is a major milestone in the history of underwater archaeology in our country and shows the commitment of the UV to the preservation and dissemination of historical heritage," points out Alba.

The UV leads this project and is responsible for the teams coordination, which includes different institutions, such as the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, the Ministry of Culture through the Sub-Directorate of Heritage, the City Council of Mazarrón and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology of Texas.

"We have high expectations for what we can learn about the shipwreck"

The wreck is believed to be the most complete and oldest known vessel ever documented on the seabed, and its extraction and subsequent study can shed light on the boat’s architecture. "It will tell us what types of wood were used to build the boat, where it was built, what navigation was like at the time, the degradation processes of the wood, the contamination that may have occurred in shallow waters...," says Agustín. "This wreck shows us what is close to us, what is local. It tells us about the mining and metallurgical activities of the Phoenicians, who settled in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula, and about a cultural transmission of nautical technology that was previously unknown in Western Mediterranean areas", explains Carlos de Juan.

In addition, the recovery will have an important impact on the international scientific community, as it is expected to become "a benchmark for other colleagues taking on similar projects of shipwreck extraction," concludes the professor.

"The UV team will be involved in all phases of the project"

The UV team will be present throughout all the stages of the project, beyond the extraction. De Juan explains, "The Universitat of València, the Ministry of Culture and the Government of the Region of Murcia are in complete harmony. The UV team will carry out the extraction of the vessel. It will continue to be involved in the long phase of conservation of the wood, giving advice and eventually, taking part in the assemblage process for the exhibition of the Mazarrón II shipwreck."