The team finally broke silence today to reveal the “truly ground-breaking” discovery set to change the world’s view of the development of the west. The seabed in the eastern Mediterranean basin was known to be home to many undiscovered shipwrecks, but now the British led team called the Enigma Shipwrecks Project, ESP, have just discovered a tantalising glimpse into life along one of the world’s most important trade routes.
The British team uncovered a list of wrecks that spanned many periods of history, from Roman to early Islamic and one “absolute colossus” trading ship of the Ottoman Empire that contained a treasure trove of Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelain.
The huge Ottoman Empire vessel was loaded with cargo from many parts of the globe that suggests a previously unknown east-west shipping trade route from China to the Mediterranean.
The ship, sunk around 1630, held cargo from Italy, such as paint jugs and peppercorns from India.
Sean Kingsley, director of the Centre for East-West Maritime Exploration and one of the lead archaeologists in the project said: “This is truly ground-breaking, one the most incredible discoveries under the Mediterranean.”
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The time-capsule preserved in the seabed tells a new story about how globalisation arose in the world.
Mr Kingsley said: “The goods and belongings of the 14 cultures and civilisations discovered, spanning on one side of the globe China, India, the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and to the west North Africa, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium, are remarkably cosmopolitan for pre-modern shipping of any era.
“At 43 metres long and with a 1,000-ton burden, it is one of the most spectacular examples of maritime technology and trade in any ocean. Its size is matched by the breadth of its cargoes.”
The Chinese porcelain would have been adapted to suit the coffee craze taking off in the Ottoman Empire at that time.
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In the ship’s hold were the earliest Ottoman clay tobacco pipes found on land or sea.
They were probably illicit because there were severe prohibitions then against tobacco smoking.
Mr Kingsley said: “Through tobacco smoking and coffee drinking in Ottoman cafes, the idea of recreation and polite society hallmarks of modern culture came to life.
“Europe may think it invented notions of civility, but the wrecked coffee cups and pots prove the barbarian Orient was a trailblazer rather than a backwater.
“The first London coffeehouse only opened its doors in 1652, a century after the Levant.”
Steven Vallery, co-director of Enigma, said: “In the Levantine Basin, the Enigma wrecks lie beyond any country’s territory.
“All the remains were carefully recorded using a suite of digital photography, HD video, photomosaics and multibeams.
“For science and underwater exploration, these finds are a giant leap forward.”
The common belief is that truly worldwide globalised trade did not occur until the 19th century.
This was when industrialisation allowed cheap production of household items using economies of scale, while rapid population growth created sustained demand for commodities.
Western imperialism drove globalisation in this period after the First and Second Opium Wars had opened up China to foreign trade, and the British Empire had conquered all of India.
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