Reed-boat sailors to follow wake of ancient mariners

By Justin Huggler

DELHI - In a latter-day version of Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition, a team of archaeologists will set sail from Oman for India in a small boat made of reeds, steering by the stars and sun with nothing but the wind to propel them.

The voyage, set to begin next Wednesday, is an attempt to prove that an ancient trade route linked India, Mesopotamia and the Arabian peninsula 4000 years ago.

The eight-man mission hopes to recreate the voyages of the ancient mariners of the region's Magan civilisations, proving it is possible to travel 500 nautical miles across the sea in a boat made with Bronze Age technology.

Their vessel, the Magan Boat, is 12m long, constructed with reeds bound together with rope made from date-palm fibre.

The sails are hand-woven from sheep's wool, and the ropes that hold them are made of goat hair. Bitumen, imported from Iraq, the site of ancient Mesopotamia, has been used for water-proofing. The craft's few wooden parts are made from teak.

Every feature of the vessel has been built with materials and skills that were available to man 4000 years ago.

The eight-man crew expect the journey from Sur, on the coast of Oman, to Dwarka in the Indian state of Gujarat, to take 15 days. They will sail on the monsoon trade winds that were the only means of crossing the sea available to their ancient predecessors.

The journey will be gruelling. The crew will live on dates, dried fish, pulses, honey and water. They will be exposed to the elements, forced to share one another's company on a small boat in an empty sea.

The boat has been designed by Dr Tom Vosner, an Australian nautical archaeologist, who has enough faith in his design to be one of the crew.

During the voyage the crew plan to study ancient navigation techniques, and what the life of Bronze Age sailors was like.

The project began after an Omani-French-Italian team of archaeologists found fragments of bitumen, with the imprints of ropes on one side and barnacles on the other, in Oman in the early 1990s.

The fragments were evidence that ships linked some of the earliest human civilisations 5000 years ago.


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