Absolute unit of an Ottoman shipwreck found

Maritime archaeologists have discovered a dozen shipwrecks off the coast of Lebanon in the Levantine Basin. Ranging in date from the 3rd century B.C. to the 19th century, there are wrecks from the Hellenistic, Roman, early Islamic and Ottoman eras. A team from the Enigma Shipwrecks Project (ESP) found the wrecks up to a mile deep on the sea floor. They scanned and documented the area with remote operated vehicles, capturing high-resolution images and HD video. The field exploration of the wrecks ended in late 2015, but as researchers continue to work on the data and artifacts, the find has been kept under wraps until now.

One ship dominated the others in size and in richness of cargo. It was an Ottoman merchant vessel that sank around 1630 during a voyage between Egypt and Istanbul. At 140 feet long displacing 1,000 tons, it was so huge that two regular ships could have fit comfortably on its deck and its hold contained hundreds of artifacts of astonishing diversity representing 14 different cultures, among them western North Africa, China, India, Italy, Spain and Belgium. Artifacts include the earliest Chinese porcelain ever found on a Mediterranean wreck, Italian ceramics and Indian peppercorns.

The objects illustrate the global reach of trade in the early 17th century and how consumer demand in one country drove production of goods across the globe.

The Chinese porcelain includes 360 decorated cups, dishes and a bottle made in the kilns of Jingdezhen during the reign of Chongzhen, the last Ming emperor that were designed for sipping tea, but the Ottomans adapted them for the craze then spreading across the East – coffee drinking. Hidden deep in the 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.

[ESP archaeologist Sean] 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.”

16 thoughts on “Absolute unit of an Ottoman shipwreck found

  1. What a fantastic find. No idea ming bowls for tea were adapted for coffee drinking. Seems like we’re finding more extensive trade routes everywhere. Great article

  2. Belgium? Wasn’t that 200 years too early, and did the Ottomans really import waffles, Moules-frites and beer? In Europe, ‘notions of civility’ were established, where tobacco smoking was banned from the coffeehouses. The Ottomans, I assume, received their high grade tobacco from the new British colonies in the overseas, and 200 years later it might have been opium.

    Physician, botanist, and traveller Leonhard Rauwolf mentions coffee in 1582: “A very good drink they call Chaube that is almost as black as ink and very good in illness, especially of the stomach. This they drink in the morning early in the open places before everybody, without any fear or regard, out of China cups [!], as hot as they can, sipping it a little at a time.”

    “Rauwolff’s travel in the Near East was made possible by his brother-in-law Melchior Manlich, who hoped Rauwolff would come back with new plants and drugs that could be traded profitably by his firm. The Manlich firm already had trading relations with exporters in Tripoli in Lebanon. Rauwolff started his journey by going from Augsburg to Marseilles in southern France, from which he sailed in 1573 to Tripoli in Lebanon. From Tripoli he went to Aleppo, where he stayed for many months. In 1574 he went from Aleppo to Baghdad and Mosul. In 1575 he went back to Aleppo and Tripoli and then on to Jerusalem. He was back in Augsburg in 1576.”

  3. The ‘Bayrische Staatsbibliothek’ has the scans of the 1582 print (bsb10901685). Here, on pp.102 — i.e. pp.120/121 in the scan– it does not exactly say ‘china cups’, but describes them rather precisely. Next, I try to translate what I have deciphered:

    …and where some of them likes to eat a little or somebody fancies a drink, they use to have in place wide and open shops, wherein they sit together directly on the earth or on spots and carouse together. Among other things they have a good drink that they highly esteem and which they call ‘Chaube’, almost black as ink and really good in illness, especially to the stomach. This they usually drink early in the morning also in the open places before everybody, without any fear or regard, from deep earthen porcelain cups, as hot as they can bear, sipping in often, a little at a time, and as they sit next to one another in a circle, they let it quickly go round. For the drink they take fruits which the locals call ‘Bunnu’ [i.e. coffee bean] that in size and color from the outside appear almost like laurel surrounded by two small sprouts and which according to their ancient reports is imported from India [as we know, there were several ‘Indias’ back then, then follows some 16th century botanical jargon that I simply do not have the energy to translate, let alone the ability]. This drink is among them very common, hence the people that serve it, as well as those that sell the fruits, are found on the Bazars sometimes in rather large numbers. Particularly, they hold it in high esteem and good for the health as with us we do the Vermouth wine…

  4. …probably, they should have double-boxed the whole ship, maybe with some sort of vessel.

    BTW – Arabic: بُن‎ m (“bun” for coffee bean, apparently what Leonhard Rauwolf referred to as “bunnu”)

  5. Something doesn’t make sense to me here. Turkish coffee is very black and thick. I don’t know what the Turks called it then or now. But here in the ME we have a wild plant that is called chaube that makes green tea and is good for the stomach. What am I missing?

  6. Susie, it seems as if you did not miss anything, and it might well be that I myself, or even Leonhard back in the 16th century, have mixed things up.

    So far, I was totally unaware of that green tea, nor of “Chaube”. He talks of several drinks “among other things” (“Under andern”) and clearly of “Chaube”, but also of the black stuff that they make from “Bun(nu)” that he indeed refers to as “Chaube”.

    You can read it here yourself.

  7. That’s a good riddle, Susie…I can’t wait for the answer!
    It probably has to do with the price of tea-bowls in China.

  8. I always find the comments just as interesting and coeducational as the articles. Thanks to all. I break about 5 cups a year just sitting them on my granite countertop. It amazes me that such beautiful objects can fall from a ship, in the middle of a wreck, and last under water for so many years. Maybe I should line my cabinets in silt instead of contact paper.

  9. Susie, it seems as if you did not miss anything, and it might well be that I myself, or even Lenny back in the 16th century, have mixed things up.

    Personally, I was totally unaware of that green tea, nor of “Chaube” tea. He talks of several drinks “among other things” (“under andern”), of “porcellanischen tieffen Schälein” (porcelain deep cups) and clearly of “Chaube”, but also of the black stuff that they make from Bun(nu) that he indeed refers to as “Chaube”.

    It took six years from his return until the printed book was finally published, and he possibly had messed with the manuscript. If that helps, the botanical bit that I yesterday omitted talks “by effect name and appearance very similar to Buncho Auic [?] and Bunca Rhasis ad Almans [?], which I accept until I get a better report from their scholars”.

    Maybe those “scholars” misinformed him or the whole thing was lost in translation (i.e. not my own).

    PS: What about Belgium, and where the Guardian did take it from?

  10. One must always admit when they are wrong. Sometimes Wrong and STUPID !!After so many years of refusing to drink the stuff every time I visit my best friend, turns out it is called – chubeza!! From the mallow family.
    But this all got me reading up on the history of coffee. Very interesting. The origins of coffee. The origins of ka fee is Ethiopia and Yemen and their variation on the word. Then into Arabic and other languages. And as Turkish is not based on Arabic, the word came out slightly different. I started saying it out loud Chau-be……. ka fee !!
    My sons drink Turkish coffee. I don’t!!

  11. Good read over my morning’s cup of Java – could “chaube” be derived from “Java?” Maybe reading the tea leaves would provide the answers.

  12. Maybe, I’ve got news on “Buncho Auic and Bunca Rhasis ad Almans:

    In the Google rip of “Teas, Cocoa and Coffee: Plant Secondary Metabolites and Health”, edited by Alan Crozier, Hiroshi Ashihara, they cite “Chamberlayne 1685”, who apparently mentions Zachary Mabomet Rafes, “commonly called Rhafio, a very famous Arabian Phyfician”, i.e. the one that is possibly also referred to by Rauwolf. Note that the ‘f’ is seemingly an ‘s’.

    The above mentioned ‘Zach Rases’ is obviously otherwise known as Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (854–925 CE), a Persian polymath, physician, alchemist, philosopher, and important figure in the history of medicine.

    He also wrote on logic, astronomy and grammar, and one might presume, also on “Chaube”.

  13. Turns out, “All-About-Coffee-IV” on something that calls itself “cluesheet” has already, what I tried to translate and claims:

    “..Bunnu which in its bigness, shape and color is almost like unto a bayberry, with two thin shells surrounded, which, as they informed me, are brought from the Indies; but as these in themselves are, and have within them, two yellowish grains in two distinct cells, and besides, being they agree in their virtue, figure, looks, and name with the Bunchum of Avicenna [what I had deciphered in the original print as ‘Auic.’], and Bunca, of Rasis ad Almans exactly; therefore I take them to be the same, until I am better informed by the learned…”

    Also, it then mentions Prospero Alpini (Alpinus; 1553–1617): “..to which they give the name bon or ban. The Arabians and the Egyptians make a sort of decoction of it, which they drink instead of wine; and it is sold in all their public houses, as wine is with us. They call this drink caova”

    Then, Johann Vesling (Veslingius; 1598–1649), a German botanist and traveler, settled in Venice: “..Not only in Egypt is coffee in much request, but in almost all the other provinces of the Turkish Empire. Whence it comes to pass that it is dear even in the Levant and scarce among the Europeans”. Vesling is said to have found there two or three thousand coffee houses in Cairo, and that “some did begin to put sugar in their coffee to correct the bitterness of it, and others made sugar-plums of the berries.”

    And the Venetians allegedly had further knowledge of coffee in 1585, when Gianfrancesco Morosini, city magistrate at Constantinople, is said to have reported that the Turks “drink a black water as hot as they can suffer it, which is the infusion of a bean called cavee, which is said to possess the virtue of stimulating mankind.”

  14. Bosnian coffee is good, along with the chunk of sugar you bite before sipping. The ritual vessels are attractive.

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