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Recreating an ancient trade route

According to Romila Thapar[3], the trade via the maritime route between the west coast of India and west Asia go back to the third millennium B.C. At that time the Egyptian civilization was in existence and Indus Valley was in its early stages. Once the trade route was established, there was continuous Indian presence in west Asia. This was the predecessor of the trade relations with Rome in the first millennium B.C and Africa in the first millennium A.D.

Georg Feuerstein et al[2] writes about cuneiform texts mentioning historical a historical place called Magan (or Makan) which according to some scholars could be Sudan or Ethiopia. But majority of the scholars think that Magan is present day Oman. Copper was found there as early as the fifth millennium B.C and and Omanis were wealthy from copper export. Copper attracted the merchants from the Indus valley and an inscription in Harappan script was found at Ras al-Junayz.

Now some researchers are traveling along that bronze age trade route, on a boat, similar to the one used by people four millennia back.

The 40-foot Magan, named after an ancient name for Oman, is made of reeds formed into bundles, lashed together with rope made from date palm fibers and covered with a woven mat coated with black bitumen or tar to make it waterproof. The vessel will be powered by a square-rigged sail made of tightly woven wool and maneuvered using two teak steering oars.

The plan is to leave Sur in Oman on Wednesday, taking advantage of the last of the southwest monsoon winds and favorable currents, and sail east 590 miles to the historic port of Mandvi in Gujarat, India, a journey that could take up to three weeks.[Bronze Age-style reed boat to sail from Oman to India]

This is going to be one hell of a trip since the boat is not covered and the sails have to be adjusted constantly. The crazy people who are doing this, all eight of them want to know how life was back then, how boats were built and ancient navigation techniques. To add authenticity, they have cargo similar to the ancient ones and the menu consists of a typical bronze age meal.

Even maneuvering aboard will be hard, since crew members will be walking on cargo piled up in the bottom. The cargo is meant to be representative of trade goods of the period: copper ingots for making the bronze that gave the age its name, blocks of fine black diorite stone for carving, turtle and marine shells, pearls, frankincense, carved soapstone vessels, dates and date products, fish oil and sharkskin – an ancient sandpaper.

The crew consists of Vosmer and the navigator, both Americans; a sailing master from Australia; two Omani seamen; two Italian graduate students; and an Indian archaeologist. They will have a Bronze Age diet of dates, honey, legumes, dried fish, bread and water, but there will also be some modern munchies.

But unlike the bronze age travellers, Magan will have a GPS, navigation lights, emergence beacon and life jackets, and also an Indian naval vessel will be following it.

Update (Sept 8, 2005): The boat sinks

Update 2(Sept 11, 2005): There is going to be another boat (via Secular-Right India)

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2 Responses to Recreating an ancient trade route

  1. Ashwini September 7, 2005 at 11:15 am #

    What fun. Do you know if ASI is involved in this too ?

  2. JK September 7, 2005 at 1:04 pm #

    Ashwini, doesn’t look like it. This looks like a private venture. I cannot imagine ASI doing such activities.

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