Student Maayan Cohen carried out tests on nails found aboard the ship to reach her conclusion. Student Maayan Cohen carried out tests on nails found aboard the ship to reach her conclusion. Student Maayan Cohen carried out tests on nails found aboard the ship to reach her conclusion. (Photo: Haifa University)

50-year-old Napoleon shipwreck mystery blown apart

Student's research uncovers the real story behind the sinking.

Turns out a 50-year mystery wasn't something a bit of science couldn't solve.

That's the length of time The Akko Tower Wreck has been flummoxing researchers. The shipwreck was first discovered in 1966 during the first maritime archeological survey conducted in Israel using remote sensing technology. At the time, nobody could figure out what type of ship it was or where it came from.

For many years, the popular hypothesis was that it was sunk by the British during their attempt to prevent entry by the navy of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. New details eventually emerged that threw this thinking into disarray, most notably the fact that Bonaparte arrived in Akko via land. Furthermore, it was determined that the ship was smaller than had originally been thought – it was 80 feet long rather than 148 feet – making it in all probability a merchant vessel rather than a naval ship.

The shipwreck has been puzzling researchers since it was first discovered in 1966.The shipwreck has been puzzling researchers since it was first discovered in 1966. (Photo: Haifa University)

Now thanks to research student Maayan Cohen, of the University of Haifa in Israel, that probability can be confirmed as fact.

Cohen, working under the supervision of several Israeli university professors and one from Germany, undertook a series of forensic tests on brass nails found embedded in the shipwreck to reach her conclusion. The composition and rigidity of the nails illuminated the manufacturing process, while an isotope analysis identified the most probable location in which they were made.

Divers have played an integral role in uncovering the ships's identity.Divers have played an integral role in uncovering the ship's identity. (Photo: Haifa University)

Drawing together all their findings, the researchers came to the following conclusion: The nails were manufactured in the first half of the 19th century, probably at a European foundry using materials from Britain.

“In light of the research findings, we now believe that this is a European merchant vessel that sunk off the coasts of Akko at some time during the first half of the 19th century,” the researchers concluded.

The researchers did not go home empty-handed for their fine work. An ensuing article published in the journal Metallography, Microstructure and Analysis earned them the prestigious Buehler Prize for the best metallurgical study from The International Metallurgical Society.

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