Category Archives: News

Echoes of Nabataean Seafaring

When one thinks of the Nabataeans, the desert comes to mind, with wind-blown sands, the red rock-cut architecture of their capital of Petra, and trade routes carrying incense from Arabia to the Mediterranean. There is, however, another aspect of the Nabataeans, one that is only now coming into focus: Seafaring.

The land of the Nabataeans not only included the Jordanian desert but the coast of the Red Sea, reaching southward from Aqaba and down into the northwestern coast of what is now Saudi Arabia. These coasts, mostly barren but containing harbors and access to water, were links to inland trade routes and formed the maritime nexus between Nabataea and the greater world.

See the full article at


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The Marburg Survey in Saudi Arabia, 2013: Jeddah

This year our survey in Saudi Arabia concentrates on the approaches to Jeddah. The founding of this important harbor city is in dispute- some sources put it as early as the 7th century, and others in the 10th. Perhaps locating ancient shipwrecks, anchorages, and other underwater sites will help illuminate a solution.

The survey began yesterday and continues through 2 October with our staff, Marburg students, and staff from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.

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The Marburg Nautical Archaeology Survey in Saudi Arabia, September 2013

Dr. Rupert Brandmeier examines an amphora sherd.

Dr. Rupert Brandmeier examines an amphora sherd.

The Marburg Survey is pleased to announce that we have received funding for the next survey in September from the Saudi  Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.  This grant, a generous gift for which we are most grateful, covers all of our expenses for two weeks except for airfare.

Our September survey will concentrate on the area of Shoaibah, said to be the ancient harbor for Mecca, where it is known that a few ships of antiquity and the early Islamic period were wrecked. In addition to the underwater survey, we will be searching the shores of the sea and lagoons for signs of harbors and harborage activities.

Now the search for airfare!  We have already received a generous private donation toward this goal, but more is needed–particularly to get my well-deserving students into the field and under the sea.

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The Marburg Nautical Archaeology Survey in Saudi Arabia, A Synopsis of the March 2012 Season

Under the sea near Jeddah.

Under the sea near Jeddah.

In early 2012, Philipps-Universitat Marburg was granted a five-year permit to explore a section of the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the kingdom.  During the period of 1 through 12 March 2012, our archaeological team from Philipps-Universität Marburg along with staff from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities conducted explorations on land and under sea for archaeological remains of harbors and watercraft. We conducted basic terrestrial research at the extreme ends of our research zone, at Rabigh and Al Shoaibah. Underwater investigations were conducted over six days at select points off the coast. The team’s efforts were rewarded with the discovery of one terrestrial site– a coral built jetty with accompanying shell middens– and one shipwreck.

Our preliminary survey was not just to find archaeological sites.  Our goals included:

  • The exploration of the Jeddah region for shipwrecks and harborages to determine their importance for future archaeological investigation and heritage preservation;
  • Examine the coastal dynamics of the region to further our understanding of the Jeddah area to create a long-term archaeological plan;
  • Begin the compilation of a preliminary map and database of the sites within the research region for the benefit of the Saudi Commission of Tourism and Antiquities;
  • Create a photographic and video-based record of the sites;
  • Build a relationship with our Saudi colleagues, as well as with the local pertinent personnel to further the research and promote heritage preservation.

We spent spent several days engaged in underwater exploration, diving through crystal-clear waters, surrounded by multi-colored coral and sealife.  Beginning on 6 March, we began examining various areas for shipwrecks. Starting with check-out dives in a secure lagoon, we began archaeological surveying as well as undertaking the first steps of diver training for the Saudi contingent from the SCTA.

Our efforts were quickly rewarded with the discovery of our first shipwreck, and only on our second day! Our dive master, Gerd Knepel was the first to spot it, returning to our vessel with photographs of an encrusted piece of pottery with a handle and neck but broken off at the shoulder.  But what was it?  Was it Ottoman? Byzantine? Or something earlier.  The following day, examining the find underwater, the realization dawned: we had a site containing ceramics of the Roman era, probably fourth or fifth century.  Afterwards, back home in Marburg, we were able to refine the date to the late third or fourth centuries AD with the aid of Turkish colleague.  Thrilling is an understatement!

At the end of our March survey, we had met most of our goals. We found one shipwreck from antiquity, examined areas of the sea previously unknown archaeologically, gathered information about the coast, and trained our Saudi colleagues in diving techniques and archaeological methods and practices.

We hope our some of our Saudi colleagues will form the core of a future group of nautical archaeologists in the kingdom. The shipwreck we discovered promises to add significantly to our knowledge of ancient Red Sea trade and seafaring along the Arabian coast, and indicates that other wrecks of various times remain to be located along the coast of Saudi Arabia. 

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A Marburg Milestone: Maier, Klotz, Link, Pape, and Schneider

I extend my hearty congratulations to my Marburg students Simon Schneider, Eugen Maier, Karlotta Pape, Matthias Link, and Bernhard Klotz for successfully completing their training course at Kiel and achieving European Scientific Diver Status! I am proud of them.

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On the Desert Fringe: New Maritime Surveys on the Central Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia.

The Materiality in Islam Research Initiative (MIRI) of the University of Copenhagen presents my lecture “On the Desert Fringe: New Maritime Surveys on the Central Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia. “ on 19 September 2012 at 16:00 (4 P.M.).

Location: Institute of Cross-cultural & Regional Studies, Snorresgade 17-19, 1st floor, 2300 Copenhagen S

This lecture is part of their new “History and Archaeology of Arabia Lecture Series.”

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Wracks künden fur versunkenen Kulturen

Article from Thüringische Landeszeitung, “Wracks künden von versunkenen Kulturen”  about nautical archaeology at Marburg and the Lahn River.

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