The Akko 1 Shipwreck, Israel: the First Two Seasons



The Akko 1 shipwreck was found in 4 m of water inside the ancient harbour of Akko (Acre), 250 m from the ancient wall, with its stern touching a submerged rampart. The dense framing-pattern and relatively thin planking, the extensive use of oak and the origin of the timber, suggest that this is the remains of a small armed ship or auxiliary vessel built in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ship has been provisionally dated to the late-18th or early-19th century, the late Ottoman period. The finds testify to its involvement in one of the naval campaigns at Akko.

© 2008 The Authors

The city of Akko (Acre, St Jean d’Acre) is located at the northern extremity of Haifa Bay, in the north of Israel, and is considered to be one of the most ancient cities of the land (Fig. 1). The Akko 1 shipwreck lies at the entrance to the harbour, 30 m north of the Tower of Flies, under about 4 m of water. It was discovered in 1966, during an underwater archaeological survey, and designated ‘Akko Tower Wreck’. Since its discovery the site has been inspected several times. Those who have examined it include P. Throckmorton, A. Flinder, E. Linder, A. Raban, and J. R. Steffy, who came to very different conclusions regarding the size of the ship, its origin, and the circumstances of its wrecking.

Figure 1.

Location map of Akko and the wreck site. (S. Haad)

The preliminary assumption was that it was a 45-m-long warship, scuttled in 1799 by the English squadron commanded by William Sidney Smith, in order to block Akko harbour during Napoleon Bonaparte's siege of the city (Flinder et al., 1966: 222; Flinder, 1985: 88; Raban, 1986b: 197–8). A later assumption was that it was a merchantman at least 25 m long, dated to the beginning of the 19th century (Steffy, 1983: 8–9). All these scholars recommended that the shipwreck must be further studied to define its place in the maritime history of Akko. Since 2006 there have been two seasons of underwater excavation. The discrepancies between the previous analyses brought the present authors to suggest that there were in fact two shipwrecks, hence the change in designation. Whether one or two shipwrecks were found in the past, the subject of this paper is the Akko 1 shipwreck.

The historical setting

Akko is a historic walled port city with a continuous history of settlement of more than 4000 years (Dotan and Goldmann, 1992: 1222). Its present harbour has a history of more than 2500 years (Linder and Raban, 1965: 186–93; Raban, 1986a). The Ottomans conquered the city in 1517. During the late Ottoman period Akko had a key role in important maritime events in the Eastern Mediterranean, specifically between the mid-18th and the mid-19th century.

In the early 1750s, the ruler of the Galilee, Daher al-Umar, conquered Akko, established it as his capital, and developed it as his main port (Heyd, 1942; Cohen, 1973: 30–53, 128–33). In 1775, Ahmed al-Jazzar Pasha, leading an Ottoman expeditionary force including Ottoman and Russian fleets, seized Akko from Daher al-Umar (Alderson, 1843: 21; Cohen, 1973: 53–6). The Russian fleet was in the Mediterranean to put pressure on the Ottoman Empire (Marriott, 1969: 149–50; Frumin et al., 2002; Frumin, 2004). By the late 1780s, Jazzar had a fleet of seven warships, some of which were armed merchantmen using cannon salvaged from shipwrecks (Cohen, 1981: 137).

The ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte saw in Egypt the key to development of commerce in competition with the British in the Eastern Mediterranean and India via the Red Sea (Elath, 1971: 25; Cohen, 1981: 140; Gichon, 2003: 31), and a French expedition arrived on the shores of Alexandria at the beginning of July 1798. There the French fleet was defeated by Horatio Nelson in the Battle of the Nile (Aboukir Bay), only two French ships-of-the-line and two frigates escaping. Bonaparte was left with small ships, of which only three were armed (La Jonquière, 1900, II: 414–19; Laurens, 1989: 104–05).

In spite of this naval defeat, Bonaparte decided to go ahead with his plan for conquering Egypt and Syria. In his memoirs, he wrote that he had decided to invade the Holy Land and Syria in order to secure the conquest of Egypt; to put pressure on the Ottoman Empire, and to block access by the British fleet to the Syrian coast (Correspondence no. 3952). In March 1799 Bonaparte laid siege to Akko, which was considered as the key to Syria (Richardot, 1848: 105), with light artillery, since the heavy artillery was on its way by sea from Damietta, Egypt. A British squadron, commanded by William Sidney Smith, was already near Akko, and intercepted the French ships near Cape Carmel. After an exhausting chase six French ships were taken, three managing to escape (La Jonquière, 1900, IV: 300–1; Laurens, 1989: 189). The English brought the captured French heavy artillery to Akko to strengthen its defences. The French ships were manned by English crews and used to harass the French coastal positions (Anon, 1801: 56; Alderson, 1843: 28). The French lifted the siege of the city on 20th May, after 60 days of bloody battle, and began their retreat toward Egypt. British control of the sea and the harbour of Akko had proved to be one of the main factors which prevented Bonaparte from taking it, and stopped his advance northwards.

About 30 years later, in 1831, Akko stood at the centre of another international conflict, between Egypt's ruler, Muhammad Ali, and the ‘Sublime Porte’—the regime of the Ottoman Empire. Ibrahim Pasha, son of Muhammad Ali, conquered Gaza and Jaffa and continued onward to Haifa, where he set up his headquarters. He laid siege to Akko, aided by a fleet that arrived from Egypt, composed of five frigates, four corvettes and two brigs. Gunfire from the city sank one gunboat and damaged the masts and rigging of others (Alderson, 1843: 39–40). After a 7-month siege, the city was taken by the Egyptians in 1832.

The period of Egyptian rule of Akko lasted only until the Great Powers came to the aid of the Sublime Porte. In 1840 an Anglo-Turko-Austrian fleet was sent against the Egyptians, and after a fierce battle took the Syrian coast from Tripoli to Tyre (Anderson, 1966: 93–103; Lambert, 2001: 84–93). The fleet reached Akko on 2 November, and began its bombardment the next day. The turning point of the battle seems to have been a shell hitting the main Egyptian arsenal, which exploded, causing great damage (Alderson, 1843: 48; Anderson, 1952: 564). The city was taken on 4 November, causing Ibrahim Pasha to withdraw, and his father lost his control over Syria (Bannister 1851: 344–5; Anderson, 1966: 103). For a period of 65 years the city of Akko and its harbour had been the site of several naval operations, which brought ships of various types, rates and classes, and from various fleets, western European or eastern Mediterranean, to its surroundings. It is believed that the Akko 1 shipwreck was one of these ships.

The excavation

The Akko 1 shipwreck was excavated for three weeks in September 2006, and four weeks in June 2007, by an expedition of the Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa, and the Nautical Archaeology Society (UK), with the co-operation of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nautical College, which was used as the expedition's base.

The excavation site is situated 30 m north of the Tower of Flies at 32°55′13.8719″ N 35°4′21.7920″ E, at a maximum depth of 4 m. The shipwreck is 23 m long and 4.38 m wide. The wood remains are of the lower parts of the hull, and are composed of a section of the port side with the bow to the north-west (Fig. 2) and the stern to the south-east. At the centre there are disordered timbers, apparently the results of the wrecking. The stern was discovered two days before the end of the 2007 excavation, and therefore will be excavated next season. Of the starboard side of the north-west section of the wreck only a few components survived. The wood was found in a good state of preservation, and includes sections of the keel and false keel, bow components, the stern, hull planks, over 100 framing timbers, and ceiling planking.

Figure 2.

Plan of north-west end of hull after removal of ceiling planking. Note that the keel and bow are tilted 50° to port. (C. Brandon)

After two seasons, it can be provisionally postulated that the excavated section of the Akko 1 shipwreck is not the Akko Tower Wreck—which probably lies a few metres to the south, suggesting that this is the reason for the differences of opinion mentioned above. Quoting J. R. Steffy: ‘There were conflicting measurements ... there are possibilities of a transition in structural composition between the two hull areas’ (Steffy, 1983: 8). This, however, may relate to the situation in the Akko 1 wreck-site.

The hull

Keel and false keel

The bow was found tilted to port, with the keel at an angle of 50° to the vertical. Towards the south-east there was considerable deterioration of the wood, affecting the measured dimensions of the components. The remaining section of the keel terminated 7.2 m from the bow—the north-western end, whereas the false keel terminated 6.25 m from the bow. The keel was made of Quercus cerris (Turkey oak) and its average dimensions were 126 mm sided and 210 mm moulded (all tree species identifications are by Professor N. Liphschitz of Tel-Aviv University, 2006; 2007a; 2007b; 2007c). The rabbet of the garboard, situated 30–35 mm from the top of the keel, was 38 mm average, with a back rabbet of 47 mm average. At the north-western end, the stem was connected to the keel by a 37-cm-long scarf. Recesses for the floor timbers were found along the keel's upper surface, most of them in quite poor condition. The recesses were 12–13 cm long, and 20–26 cm apart between adjacent ends. The remains of iron spikes, 15–19 mm in diameter, were found in all the recesses except one. Iron nails were found, in addition to the spikes, in three of the recesses (see Fastenings below). No evidence of nails, such as keelson fasteners, were noticeable on the upper surface of the keel, but see the deadwood (below).

The false keel, made of Fagus orientalis (Oriental beech), was nailed to the keel. Seven unequally-spaced iron concretions were located, marking the positions of the nails which connected it to the keel. The false keel was the same width as the keel, 126 mm sided, and was 101 mm thick on average. The keel and false keel were both covered with a layer of tar (Fig. 3).

Figure 3.

Keel and false keel. The upper dashed line marks the position of the rabbet. (S. Breitstein)

The bow timbers

The bow was composed of a false keel and its continuation in the false stem, the keel and its continuation in the stem, an apron and a deadwood knee (Table 1; Fig. 4). All bow components were made of oak, apart from the false keel. The components were generally connected using iron nails, but wooden nails were also used (see Fastenings below). The stem, 140 mm sided and 195–230 mm moulded, survived to a length of 202 cm. Two bolts were found on the upper surface of the stem connecting it and the apron, and also a single iron nail. The sided dimension of the stem was larger than that of the apron above it, and thus created a rabbet-like groove 35 mm deep for the hull planks. The stem ended with one side of a flat scarf 39 cm long, evidence of the upper extension. At the end of the scarf, the stem seemed to be somewhat rounded. The other end of the stem was connected to the keel by a scarf, 37 cm long.

Table 1. Dimensions of keel, false keel and bow components
ComponentWood speciesMeasured length* (m)Measured sided/ width (mm)Measured moulded/ thickness (mm)
  • *

    The length of the keel and the false keel is the maximum length exposed and measured during the excavation: the original timbers were much longer. The stem, false stem, apron and deadwood knee were measured along their curved surface.

KeelQuercus cerris7.2126210
False keelFagus orientalis6.25126101
StemQuercus cerris2.02140Varied from 195 to 230
False stemQuercus petraea / Quercus pubescens2.20140Varied from 102 to 300
ApronQuercus cerris1.37Varied from 80 to 130Varied from 80 to 200
Deadwood kneeQuercus cerris2.23Varied from 100 to 140Varied from 70 to 168
Figure 4.

Bow components. (K. Clark)

The remnant of the false stem was 220 cm long, 140 mm sided, where measuring was possible, and between 102 and 300 mm moulded. It ended with a broken flat scarf, 70 cm of its length surviving. Two round holes, 22 and 23 mm in diameter, were found in the scarf, and were probably used for wooden nails. The apron was 137 cm long, 80–130 mm sided, and 80–200 mm moulded. A bolt and an iron nail were found in its upper surface. On the starboard side of the apron, which was accessible for inspection, remains of three nails were found, used to connect the ends of the planks to the apron.

The deadwood knee survived to a length of 223 cm, and was 100–140 mm sided and 70–168 mm moulded, although at the aft extremity it was nearly zero (Fig. 5). The starboard side of the knee was exposed and damaged by teredo, while the port side was protected and relatively well preserved. The knee had five recesses carved into it. Saw- and chisel-marks were discerned in the recesses. At least three of the recesses were bases for full V-shaped frames, two of which partially survived (Fig. 6). The recesses were 126 mm long on the average, and about 90 mm wide. Traces of iron nails were found in the recesses and on both sides of the deadwood knee. Six of the nails were used to fasten the knee to other components. A spike was found on the upper surface of the knee, between two recesses. This indicates the existence of another component above the deadwood knee, perhaps the forward end of the keelson.

Figure 5.

Deadwood knee. (S. Haad)

Figure 6.

The two partially-surviving v-shaped frames in situ. (K. Clark)

The frames

More than 100 framing timbers have so far been found, comprising about 30 frame-stations. The framing timbers, mainly of various oak species (Table 2), were closely spaced, creating a solid surface from the keel towards the turn of the bilge (Fig. 7). As mentioned above, the recesses for the floor timbers along the keel's upper surface were 12–13 cm long, and 20–26 cm apart between adjacent ends, thus creating a room and space of 32–39 cm. The framing timbers were attached to one another in a bow to aft direction (see Fastenings below). However, a central frame has not yet been identified. The timbers were 45–170 mm sided, with an average of 109 mm, and 45–120 mm moulded, with an average of 79 mm. This does not include the two V-shaped frame remnants found in the deadwood knee, of which only the port side survived (These two were lifted, so only their position is marked on Fig. 2). F-11, the north-western one, sided 94–135 mm and moulded 75–185 mm, survived to a maximum length of 54 cm. F-12, 85–128 mm sided and 80–250 mm moulded, survived to a maximum length of 69 cm (Figs 8 and 9).

Table 2. Distribution of wood species in framing timbers
Wood speciesNumber of timbersTotal
Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescensinline image
Quercus cerris
Quercus coccifera
Pinus brutia
Tamarix (X5)
Acer pseudoplatanus
Figure 7.

Akko 1 framing timbers looking south-east. (K. Clark)

Figure 8.

F-11. (S. Haad)

Figure 9.

F-12. (S. Haad)

There was a gap of 45–80 cm between the broken edges of the framing timbers and the keel (Fig. 2), which explains why only a few limber holes survived. They were found above plank P852, which was the third strake from the keel, most of them in quite poor condition. Only one limber hole, 45 mm wide and 25 mm high, survived complete in frame 107.

The hull planks

Recording the hull planks was not an easy task, due to the dense coverage of framing timbers and ceiling planks. Forty-five have been fully or partially documented: 95% of them of oak. The planks at the bow area, averaging 158 mm wide, are narrower than the planks amidships—average 187 mm, due to the convergence of the hull towards the bow. Two narrow planks, about 90 mm average, were used as drop-strakes. Two thick strakes were situated at the turn of the bilge, and were probably the bilge strakes. They were an average of 65 mm thick (maximum 82 mm) compared with the 40 mm average thickness (maximum 56 mm) of the rest of the hull planks.

Two types of joints were found in the hull planks: butt and L-shaped. Traces of nails were detected from both sides of joints, where the extant framing timber was missing (Fig. 10). The hull planks were connected to the framing timbers using iron nails, and some wooden nails were also found. On both sides of the wreck the garboard plank at the bow—the first plank in from the north-west, was short. The starboard garboard length was 94 cm, with an average width of 197 mm and an average thickness of 45 mm. The port garboard was situated under the bow, and was therefore measured where possible. It was about 100 cm long, 195 mm wide and 43 mm thick.

Figure 10.

Butt joint and L-shaped joint. (S. Breitstein)

Nailed to one of the planks in the bow area, P800, was an unidentified element of wood—Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescens, designated UI-401 (Fig. 11). It was trapezoidal, the lower face measuring 21 cm, the upper face 14 cm, and the sides 10 cm and 7 cm, the latter being the height of the timber. The trapeze was 13 cm wide, and a 11 mm recess was cut lengthwise in its upper surface, into which were driven two nails, 6 × 6 mm in cross-section.

Figure 11.

UI–401 looking north-west. (S. Breitstein)

Ceiling planking

Fourteen ceiling planks were documented during the first two excavation seasons (Table 3 and Fig. 12). Additional ceiling planks were exposed in the stern area. Ceiling planks nos 7051 and 7053 were relatively short, and it seems that they were used to fill gaps. Ceiling planks 704 and 7041 were connected to one strake by a 25-cm-long diagonal scarf and a single iron nail, and were thicker than the other planks. This, as well as the position in which they were found, suggests they were used as a stringer.

Table 3. Ceiling planking
Plank no.Wood speciesMeasured length (m)Average width (mm)Average thickness (mm)Notes
701Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescens4.3517821
7011Quercus cerris2.7621334
702Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescens6.1121834Width varies
703Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescens6.4619631Diagonal scarf on south-eastern end
704Pinus brutia2.7722079A stringer, diagonal scarf on south- eastern end
7041Pinus brutia3.5023999A stringer, broken on south-eastern end
705Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescens1.6119235
70510.36NAWidening from bow to stern
7052Quercus cerris3.8513621Widening from stern to bow
70530.88NAGap filler between ceiling planks 705 and 706
706Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescens3.7718818Width varies
7061Quercus cerris1.8415918
707Ulmus campestris2.0018523Widening from stern to bow
7071Quercus petraea / Quercus pubescens4.1017546
Figure 12.

Ceiling planking looking south-east. (K. Clark)

The average width of the ceiling planks was 195 mm and the average thickness 29 mm, apart from the stringer, which was 79–99 mm thick. All ceiling planks were fixed to the framing timbers by iron nails. On the lower face of planks 704 and 7041 (Fig. 13) were found several holes 17–64 mm deep, which did not penetrate the whole thickness. This might be evidence of secondary use of the timber. Saw-marks at intervals of 3–5 mm were apparent on most of the ceiling planks. In the scarf between planks 704 and 7041 adze tool-marks were visible.

Figure 13.

Stringer—ceiling plank no. 704. (S. Haad)


In general, the fastenings used in the building of the ship can be divided into five groups: iron bolts, iron spikes, square cross-section iron nails, small wooden nails, and large wooden nails. The bow components: deadwood knee, apron and stem, were joined using 12, 15, and 19 mm diameter iron bolts, approximately 40–50 cm long. Iron spikes, about 25 cm long, were used to connect the floor timbers to the keel. These were 15, 18, and 19 mm in diameter, and penetrated 135–140 mm into the keel. An additional spike was found on the upper surface of the deadwood knee between two recesses. It was 12.4 × 15.6 mm on the upper face, narrowing to 8.0 × 9.4 mm on the lower face of the knee. This spike may have connected the forward end of the keelson to the deadwood knee. Iron nails or spikes were used in fixing the false keel to the keel. Seven iron concretions were found at the bottom of the false keel, spaced at 22 to 85 cm, testifying to its attachment to the keel. Square-cross-section iron nails were also evident in the bow and the keel attachments. In the recesses on the keel's upper surface, four square-cross-section iron nails were found: 9 × 10 and 9 × 11 mm in one recess, and two 8 × 8 mm in the others. In the upper surface of the stem, a single 7 × 7 mm nail was found, and in the upper surface of the apron was a 7 × 8 mm nail.

The closely-spaced arrangement of the framing timbers made it difficult to discern how they were connected. Four framing timbers were retrieved, and are being studied in the laboratory. The timbers seem to have been connected in a bow-to-aft direction using square-cross-section iron nails. The cross-section measured 10.4–14.4 mm at the after side of the frame and 4.9–9.6 mm at the forward side. A central framing timber has not yet been identified, and the framing attachment pattern is to be further investigated.

The ceiling planks were nailed onto the framing timbers. These nails had a square cross-section of 6–10 mm, but those used to fix the footwale were somewhat larger, with a cross-section of 8–12 mm. The two footwale planks, 704 and 7041, were scarfed to one strake, and secured by a single iron nail, 8 × 10 mm in cross-section. Depending on plank width, between one and three iron nails, 10–15 mm in cross-section, connected the planks to the frames. On the starboard side of the apron, remains of three nails were found, two of them being 7 × 7 mm, and the third 5 × 5 mm in cross-section. These nails connected the planks at the end to the apron. In addition to iron nails, small wooden nails were found attaching the hull planks to the framing timbers (Fig. 14). They appear to be rounded or nearly rounded, with a diameter of 10–14 mm. The larger wooden nails were tapered, about 30 mm in diameter and 13–15 cm surviving length. Four wooden nails of this type have so far been found on the wreck, made of different species of hardwood. One wooden nail was found next to the false stem, where two holes of 22 and 23 mm diameter were discovered. It seems that wooden nails were used to connect the false stem with its upper continuation.

Figure 14.

Wooden nails in the hull planks. (K. Clark)

Rigging elements

Several rigging elements have been found between midships and the bow, mainly sheaves, but also including two single blocks and a broken bullseye (Table 4). Rope-marks are clearly evident in the groove on the outer face of the bullseye. It is suggested that this bullseye was seized to the fore-shroud in order to direct a clew-line or a buntline down to its belaying-pin (Hanley-Place, 2007: 3; pers. comm. Hanley-Place, 2007). The two blocks were rope-stropped, and although the rope no longer exists, its marks remained on the shell. According to their size and location on the wreck, it is possible that block 2003B was used as a bunt block (Fig. 15), while block 2010C, which is larger, was used as a clew-block or a ‘widow maker’—part of the headsail's running rigging (Hanley-Place, 2007: 9; pers. comm. Hanley-Place, 2007).

Table 4. Rigging elements
Artefact no.TypeWood speciesDiameter (mm)Thickness (mm)Notes
403Lower deadeyeJuglans regia148Iron-bound
2001Upper deadeyeJuglans regia15596Teredo damage, only about half survived
2003BBlockShellFraxinus excelsior
SheaveGuaiacum officinale62.516.5
PinBuxus sempervirens15
2010CBlockShellTamarix (X5)Broken, apparent tool marks
SheaveGuaiacum officinale68.524
PinUlmus campestris 25
2003ASheave Guaiacum officinale75.540Saw marks, 2–3 mm
2006Sheave Guaiacum officinale18127Metal coaking
2010ASheave Guaiacum officinale15230
2010BSheave Ulmus campestris11032
2022Sheave Quercus coccifera12026
2025Sheave Quercus cerris8220.5Broken and deteriorated
2057Sheave Not sampled 8340Attached to hull plank 8002, left in situ
2023Shell Tamarix (X5)Broken
2004Bullseye Juglans regiaBroken
Figure 15.

Block 2003B. (J. J. Gottlieb)

Sheave 2006 was the only one to be found with a coak. The correlation between hole diameter (extrapolated based on a drawing of the sheave fragment) and sheave thickness raises the possibility that sheave 2010A had also a coak, which has been lost. An iron-bound lower deadeye and a rope-stropped upper deadeye were found at the aft section of the wreck. The size of the deadeyes corresponds to a mizzen topmast or topgallant backstay of a 3-masted ship, or a mainmast backstay of a 2-masted ship (Steel, 1805: 332–3; pers. comm. Hanley-Place, 2007). The iron-bound chain of the lower deadeye, seen in an x-ray, seems to be of an English type (Marquardt, 1992: 253 fig. 187b).

The finds

The finds included metal, organic and ceramic objects. The metal finds comprised mainly of ammunition and related artefacts, such as cannonballs, lead bullets, muskets, brass cases, and brass hooks. Nine iron cannonballs were found altogether, of which eight were inside the wreck, caught between the framing timbers, and one was found near the false keel under the bottom (Fig. 16). This ball was 140.9 mm in diameter and weighed 10.3 kg, which suggests it was a 24-pdr shot. Due to its location, it was assumed that this cannonball sank the ship. Of the others, one seems to be another 24-pdr, and the other seven were smaller, probably 9- and 12-pdrs.

Figure 16.

Cannonball near the false keel. (S. Breitstein)

Lead bullets of different calibres were scattered in the wreck. Some were found round and intact, 14.65–15.86 mm in diameter, whereas others were deformed (Fig. 17). It is suggested that this distortion was the result of their being fired. Several of the bullets show damage which is consistent with hitting wood, while others show damage which is more compatible with impact with a much harder surface, such as stone or metal. In addition, two of the bullets, show signs of compression and melting occurring during firing as case-shot from artillery (pers. comm. Foard, 2008).

Figure 17.

Lead bullets. (D. Cvikel)

Parts of several muskets, including brass trigger-guards, buttplates, and a side-plate, were found at the aft part of the wreck (Fig. 18). The muskets themselves were covered with marine encrustation (Fig. 19). X-ray photographs proved them to have been flintlocks, and preliminary examination suggests they were probably of the British Sea Service type from the late-18th or early-19th century (pers. comm. Rimer, 2007).

Figure 18.

Musket parts. (D. Cvikel)

Figure 19.

A musket covered with marine encrustation. (K. Clark)

Nearly 100 brass cases were found between midships and the stern. These were roughly hand-made, semi-circular in shape, about 7 cm long, and 5 cm wide, with no stamped marks. They all had lids and two or three straps on the body (Fig. 20). Analysis shows the cases to be of low-quality brass, with about 25%–28% zinc (Eisen, 2007). A copper-alloy container is appropriate for maritime use, and prevents the risk of sparks, though the use of similar brass cases elsewhere is not known. Their being containers for musket cartridges is unlikely, since they are too small. It has been suggested that they contained artillery quills (pers. comm. Hall and Wheatley, 2007 and Rimer, 2007). This hypothesis is to be further studied. Dozens of hand-made brass hooks, 10–15 mm long, were found mainly in the bow area (Fig. 21). Their function is still unknown.

Figure 20.

Brass case. (J. J. Gottlieb)

Figure 21.

Brass hooks. (J. J. Gottlieb)

The organic finds can be divided into two groups: food remains and artefacts. The food remains consisted of olive pits, almond, hazel, and walnut shells, a peach stone, and a small European plum stone (pers. comm. Kislev, 2007). The artefacts included rope remains, leather flasks, and a small bone button, 13 mm in diameter, with three holes in which remains of reddish thread were found. The leather flasks were mainly found tangled up with wooden components at the north-western end of the wreck, although several were uncovered near the stern. Some flasks were worn, but others were found in a good state of preservation, including their wooden mouthpieces and stoppers (Fig. 22). The flasks were 42 cm long and 155–180 mm maximum width, made of a double oval piece of leather, folded and closed by a thin leather strip 36–42 mm wide. Stitches, approximately one per centimetre, went through both the strip and the body of the flask. The flasks would have contained about 1 litre of liquid, and the shape of the mouthpiece suggests they were used as waterskins rather than powder flasks.

Figure 22.

Leather flask. (S. Haad)

The remnant of a rope, about 25 cm long and 40 mm in diameter, z-twisted, composed of three s-spun strands, was found on one of the ceiling planks, next to a small block (2003B). It was found in an eye-splice shape, bound by seven windings formed by a 5.5 mm cord over a length of 42 mm (Fig. 23). The rope material was found to be jute (pers. comm. Bockius, 2007).

Figure 23.

Remnant of rope. (S. Breitstein and Y. Kahanov)

The ceramic ware was composed of sherds, mainly of dishes, and clay tobacco pipes. They were found scattered on the wreck's surface, so their relationship to the wreck is doubtful. However, during the 2007 excavation season, some pipes were found in closed areas of the wreck (for example beneath ceiling planking), and are treated as artefacts supporting the dating of the wreck.


Five samples of wood, olive-pit, rope and leather were tested by AMS 14C (G. Bonani and I. Hajdas, 5 December 2006, samples: ETH-32619, ETH-32620, ETH-32621, ETH-32622, ETH-32623). Because of the difficulties in using this method, and the calibration problem at relatively late periods, the results span the last 500 years. Similar dating problems using 14C were encountered in dating Ottoman period shipwrecks such as DW2 and Dor 2002/2 (Cvikel and Kahanov, 2006; Cvikel et al. forthcoming). It is of not much significance to the dating of the wreck, except by not ruling out the late Ottoman period.

The suggested date for the rigging elements is the late 18th to the early 19th century (Hanley-Place, 2007: 3, 11, 14). All the surviving items of rig of Akko 1 showed traces of rope friction and abrasion. Chain cables were introduced in 1811 (Moore, 1926: 18), while wire standing rigging was experimented with in the early decades of the 19th century, but was not a commercial success until the 1830s (MacGregor, 1988: 148). Since no evidence for the use of chains or wire was found, it thus may indicate a date not later than the first half of the 19th century. This is also supported by the cannonballs, which were solid round-shot and not explosive shells (Moore, 1926: 19; Kemp, 1976: 361, 364), and the muskets, which were dated to the end of the 18th or the early-19th century (pers. comm. Rimer, 2007).

The majority of the clay tobacco pipes can be roughly dated to the first half of the 19th century. Two of the pipes found in a sealed context in the wreck-site are nearly identical to pipes found on the Kitten shipwreck, which is tentatively dated to the reign of Sultan Selim III, 1789–1807 (pers. comm. Batchvarov, 2008).

A relatively new method of dating lead artefacts is based upon the amount of surface corrosion measurement at cryogenic temperature in the superconductive state of the metal (Reich et al., 2003). One lead bullet from the wreck was sent for analysis to the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. The result gave a terminus ante quem of 1820 AD (pers. comm. Shalev, 2007).

The main naval campaigns at Akko in the relevant period were between 1775 and 1840. The dating of the finds narrows the time-span to the first two campaigns: 1775 and 1799. However, the later events will also be considered in future studies. In order to pursue further the age of the ship, several wood samples have been sent for dendrochronological analysis to Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory, Cornell University, and to Europôle Méditerranéen de l’Arbois, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille. The dating analysis of the finds is continuing by all available methods.


The hull of Akko 1 was intensively reinforced by a dense system of light oak frames (11 cm sided and 8 cm moulded). This produced a strong side, ‘almost solid wall’ (MacGregor, 1988: 20). The planking, although of oak, is not much more than 4–5 cm thick. The finds hint at a vessel which sank as a result of an act of war. Thus she could have been either a small warship similar to a 6th-rate, or an auxiliary naval vessel. The tree species indicate an eastern Mediterranean origin. The large number of naturally-curved framing timbers suggests a source of oak near the shipyard, perhaps a clue to where she was built.

According to McCranie (2002: 155) the Ottoman fleet was a ‘curious hybrid of its Eastern tradition and Western technology’. This is probably true, since the building of Ottoman ships at this time relied on foreign expertise and technology (Shaw, 1971: 157–8; Grant, 1999: 190). The work in the Arsenal followed European methods under the direction of French craftsmen and naval architects, who entered service in 1793 and returned to France in 1804, after establishing a modern dockyard in Constantinople and training Ottoman craftsmen to continue their work (Shaw, 1971: 157–8; McCranie, 2002: 159). Constantinople became the site of the major dockyard, where mainly Turkish ships-of-the-line were built. After the formation of the Triple Alliance in 1799, Sultan Selim III placed part of the Arsenal under English control. While the Turks were able to produce supplies such as planks, masts, and ropes domestically, they proved deficient in other areas, especially metal goods. The Russian naval arsenals in the Black Sea were a major source for anchors, cannon, and shot, while substantial quantities of ammunition (shot, powder, and small arms) were purchased from the British Navy (McCranie, 2002: 159–60). This would be a reasonable explanation for the curious co-existence of British Sea Service muskets with Ottoman clay tobacco pipes in the same ship. However, ships were built in other places as well; for example, an important dockyard was in Rhodes, which served as the principal construction site for frigates (Grant, 1999: 189–90). Mohammed Ali had two brigs and a small corvette, built at Alexandria (Newberry, 1942: 64, citing T. Legh, Narrative of a Journey in Egypt, 1816: 30).

Based on this evidence, the hull-form of the original ship was reconstructed according to European lines. The angle of deadrise, calculated according to the dimensions of the rabbet in the keel, was 40° at the forward section of the ship, near the bow. The maximum width of the hull remains, from the keel to the turn of the bilge, was 4.38 m, with the keel inclined 50° to the vertical, and the outer (lower) surface of the frames with 10° deadrise. The calculation results in about 4.15 m width from the centre of the keel to the turn of the bilge. Thus it can be assumed that the original ship had a beam about 8.5 m, a length of 30 m, and a draught of 4.25 m (length-to-beam ratio 3.6 and draught-to-beam ratio 0.5 are common figures, see for example Steel, 1805: 266–7). It is therefore suggested that the ship may have been a warship similar to a 6th-rate frigate, or a smaller vessel—a brig or a sloop, carrying 18–20 small-calibre guns and a crew of 120–150 men (cf. Ozanne, 1762: pl. 22; Moore, 1926: 7).

The harbour of Akko is narrow, about 300 m north-south by 250 m east-west. Near the entrance there are rocks of the ancient breakwater, and the Tower of Flies with the obstacles north of it. Less than 100 m from the entrance inside northward, the depth is less than 3 m. This depth did not change over the period in question, as is evident from charts (Smith, 1799; Admiralty chart 1585, 21 March 1844; Admiralty chart 1585, 1 June 1863) and eyewitness accounts of the period (Ali Bey, 1816, II: 249; Buckingham, 1821: 72, 79). When fully loaded, the ship had a draught of approximately 4 m. Thus she could not have been at maximum draught when she entered the harbour. If she did enter the harbour, she would have touched ground within a few metres from the entrance. Assuming a speed of five knots, this would have happened in less than one minute. It is almost impossible to enter the harbour in darkness. During the day the prevailing wind is from the west, with local changes inside the harbour. Attempting to sail a 30-m-long sailing ship into the harbour of Akko, and making an immediate 180° turn, would have been doomed to failure.

There is abundant evidence for the ship being involved in warfare (cannonballs, lead shot, muskets, and perhaps also the brass cases). If the ship entered Akko harbour west of the Tower of Flies to attack, evidently she ran unreasonable risks. The only explanation is the lack of, or wrong, information. Akko is too narrow to be compared to Çesme and its second day of battle (Anderson, 1952: 288–91). The range was, of course, very effective, but to both sides, with the shore having the advantage of a static and stable gun platform. The ship was an ideal target, without any possibility of manoeuvring. If she suffered from the city's defensive ordnance, she could find herself carried by the wind to the shallows, where she was found.

Considering the aspect of seamanship, a vessel of this type entering the harbour to attack is unlikely if not impossible; thus it would have been a friendly, not an enemy, ship. This, and the origin of the tree species, indicate that she was an eastern Mediterranean, possibly Ottoman, ship. If so, she could have been hit from outside the harbour, and drifted with the prevailing west wind, eastward to the shallows.

Of the finds, the large number of brass cases, and the leather flasks, have not yet been conclusively identified and no parallels have been so far found, although they were evidently in regular use.


Akko 1 seems to have been a ship about 30 m long, either a naval auxiliary vessel or a small warship. The design of the hull shows unusual features, suggesting that she was built in the eastern Mediterranean in an Ottoman shipyard. She apparently belonged to the defenders of the city, not to an attacking force, and was wrecked in the shallow water of the harbour. The condition of the hull remains suggests that she was attacked from outside the harbour and suffered considerable damage. The dating is between 1775 and 1840, and can perhaps be narrowed to 1775–1820; thus two events are possible: the capture of the city in 1775, and the siege by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. However, the circumstances of the wrecking and the flag she carried are still an enigma.


This research was supported by R. Marlar, the Yaacov Salomon Foundation, the Halpern Foundation, Sir Maurice Hatter Fellowship, Jewish National Fund, anonymous donors, and the Rector, Dean and Faculty of Humanities, University of Haifa, to whom we are grateful. We would like to thank K. Batchvarov, G. Rimer, N. Hall and C. Wheatley, G. Foard, S. Hanley-Place, R. Roth, Dr R. Bockius and V. Timberlake for their assistance, advice and valuable information; and to J. B. Tresman for the English editing.