RIYADH: The Red Sea Development Company on Tuesday entered into a partnership with the Ministry of Culture to deliver Saudi Arabia’s first underwater archaeological excavation.
The agreement with the ministry aims at uniting efforts in the fields of archeology, heritage, history and sustainable tourism along the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast and will hopefully lead to the inclusion of the area in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
The agreement includes the creation of the Kingdom’s first maritime museum, which will conserve and display underwater archaeology in Saudi Arabia.
The excavation project of the Red Sea’s largest wooden shipwreck will be led by Italy’s University of Napoli.
Chiara Zazzaro, director of Red Sea Shipwreck Excavation and assistant professor of maritime archeology at the University of Napoli L'Orientale said: “The shipwreck is currently the most intact and best-preserved wooden shipwreck in the Red Sea. With its spectacular cargo of jars, porcelain and spices, this 18th century merchantman testifies the intense trading activities going on in the Red Sea before the opening of the Suez Canal, and its articulated connection with the wider Indian Ocean trade. The preserved wooden structure represents unique evidence of massive and expensive boat building construction, previously unknown in the region.”
The shipwreck occurred sometime between 1725 and 1750 and is located in Al-Wajh lagoon. Submersed in 20-22 meters of water, the hull remains in the seabed along with a mound of more than 1,000 jugs which have calcified into a single group.
It is approximately 40 meters in length and 16 meters wide with an intact cargo of potentially 1,000 tons.
Preservation of artifacts
Under the deal, all artifacts will be preserved, catalogued, and stored in the Red Sea Museum in Jeddah, while some pieces will be displayed for visitors of The Red Sea Project.
Commenting on the partnership, TRSDC CEO John Pagano said: “Partnering with the Heritage and Museum Commissions allows us to both explore the historical significance of this unique region and ensure the preservation of our discoveries.
“TRSDC is committed to responsibly developing the extraordinary natural beauty and historical value of the Red Sea and we look forward to close collaboration to advance the Kingdom’s heritage conservation efforts.”
Full seabed survey
The partnership also enables a full seabed survey to be delivered, stretching from Jeddah, upward along the coastlines of The Red Sea Project and AMAALA. The survey planned for later this year, will identify archaeological remains in the ocean floor, which can potentially be excavated thereafter.
The collaboration also facilitates the exploration of previously undiscovered areas of historical significance, with an aim to increase Saudi Arabia’s current list of six sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A detailed survey is being planned for the port of “Akre Kom” (citadel or garrison) and “Hippos Kome” (Horse Bay), mentioned in ancient texts by Greek geographers Ptolemy and Strabo.
Other areas of the partnership include restoring historical structures in the area; rebuilding ancient mosques; and establishing centers for the production, sale and display of traditional handicrafts.
The MoUs were signed by Hamed Fayez, vice minister of culture, vice chairman of Heritage Commission and Museums commissions, and TRSDC chief.