Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta — Casting The Anchors and Dinghy

Acts 27:27 . . . about midnight the sailors began to surmise that 1they were approaching some land. 28 And they took soundings, and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak.

The captain and sailors on Paul’s ship found themselves in a very dangerous situation that called for a desperate measure—the casting of the “storm anchors” into the raging sea.

Please note, that under normal circumstances (relatively calm harbors) they would use “composed anchors” to secure the ship.

Two Composed Anchors on display in the Hecht Archaeological Museum in Haifa, Israel. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

A “Composed Anchor” is made out of a large chiseled stone and has at least three holes in it. A rope was tied in the upper hole—to lower and hoist the anchor—and wooden stakes were inserted into the two lower holes in order to grip the sea bottom. These anchors weighed between 45 and 170 pounds and could be lowered and hoisted by one or two seamen.  This type of anchor was used from the late second millennium BC on.  Please note that this type of anchor would not be able to secure the large Alexandrian Grain Ship in a raging sea!

Acts 27:40 “And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea.

These four anchors were very large and were “storm anchors.”  The “Isis – Sarapis” anchor stock found by Mark Gatt would be an example of this (as would the 3.5-ton anchor stock discovered in the same general area).

A replica of the “Isis – Sarapis” anchor discovered by Mark Gatt.

In this area please note that five “storm anchor” stocks were found that weighed 200, 489, 117, 500 pounds and the 3.5-ton stock plus the massive “Isis Sarapis” stock (Gatt p. 98 citing Scicluna).  These types of anchors were very heavy and were the last hope of securing a ship during a storm—both because of their weight and especially being fastened to the sea bottom.  But, once the storm anchors were cast overboard, and they were once secured on the seabed, they could not be lifted back on board, so they had to be abandoned!  As Acts 27:40 says, “And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea.

On the map note “Ancient Anchors.” This is where Scicluna noted all the relevant anchor stocks.  They had been abandoned as described above.

Acts 27:29 “they cast four anchors from the stern

The bow of a cargo ship with two “storm anchors” secured in place.

On this model the huge storm anchors are lashed onto the bow of the boat, ready to be deployed in a storm.  Under normal circumstances, the anchors would be lowered from the bow (see photo above) to secure the ship.  This would mean that the bow would be facing the oncoming waves because that would be the best way to deflect the waves and to ride out the storm.

But Acts 27:29 says they were lowered from the stern!  Gatt graphically describes how he thinks they were lowered and then the sailor had to quickly run, with ropes in hand, to secure them to the stern of the boat.  Gatt credits the wisdom of the captain in doing this, for this meant that the bow of the boat was facing the shore and it would be much easier to run it aground—once the time had come to abandon the storm anchors!

Acts 27:29 And fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the 1rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. 30 And as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship, and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the aropes of the ship’s boat, and let it fall away

A sarcophagus that has a sailing ship and its “dinghy” engraved in bas relief.  The projection on the bow of the boat, on the left, may be a SSS sail, OR it might be a representation of a “storm anchor” with its anchor stock.

In the archaeological museum in Sinope Turkey, on the Black Sea, is a sarcophagus that has a sailing ship and its “dinghy” engraved in bas relief.  Behind it there is a small vessel, with a sail, that may be in tow.  Might this be a “dinghy” like the one described in Acts 27:30?

The Apostle Paul, and companions, may have sailed on such vessels. Note the steering oars at the stern of the ship, the billowing mainsail and what looks like a jib (Gatt, p. 18 calls this an “artemon”) near the bow of the boat—or could this represent a storm anchor with its anchor stock? Even the guy-lines are visible in the image.  An inscription on the sarcophagus reads: “Cornelius Arrianus is lying here. His age is 60.”

A line drawing of the bas relief on the sarcophagus in the museum in Sinope.

Alternatively, note that the “dinghy” has a  billowing sail and thus might be a second ship that is being depicted as being in the distance—and thus is smaller than the nearer vessel.

 

For a complete discussion of the shipwreck of Paul see Mark GattPaulus The Shipwreck 60 A.D.  Second edition, 2017.  Malta: Allied Publications.

For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

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Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta — Part 4

In the book of Acts we read that after spending fourteen days in a storm at sea, at midnight

Acts 27:27  . . . the sailors sensed they were approaching land.  28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.

What is a “sounding?”  A “sounding” is where sailors lower weights into the water and let them sink to the bottom to measure the depth of the water.

Ancient Sounding Weights from the Mediterranean Coast of Israel. On display in the museum near the archaeological site of Tel Dor, Israel.

Sounding weights served to measure the depth of the water and to check the type of sediment at the sea bottom. This was done in order to identify anchoring areas as well as fishing grounds. Their upper part is perforated for the attachment of a sounding line, and on the bottom is a cavity (tallow cup), smeared with grease, for sampling the sea bottom.

 

found it was ninety feet deep”

28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep.

Note that Gatt found his Isis – Sarapis anchor stock in about 118 feet of water—which fits reasonably well with the Acts 27:28 passage, as do the location of the anchor stocks and artifacts found by Scicluna (on the map above = “Ancient Anchors + Artifacts).”

Acts 27:38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

This would also have been the are where some (much) of the cargo was tossed into the sea to lighten the ship—but not the actual place of the shipwreck.

The TWO Ships that Paul Traveled On

A model of a Roman Merchant Ship of the first century A.D. that is on display in the Malta Maritime Museum.

Roman Cargo ships were rounded vessels with a forward-leaning fore–post, a high stern and a high bent stern post that was often decorated in the form of a swan’s neck.  To view a large, but less than full, modern reconstruction of such a coastal cargo ship see Here.

It should be remembered that on his way from Caesarea to Rome Paul traveled on two ships.

The first was a “coastal vessel:”

Acts 27:2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

This was evidently a NOT a large Alexandrian Grain ship, but rather a smaller vessel (like the model above) that carried goods from port to port stopping at many ports along the way.  Note that Paul’s vessel stopped at Sidon before proceeding to Myra (port Andriace).

It was there at Myra/Andriace that the party boarded a second ship—a much larger “Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy” (Acts 27:6)—the one that carried grain PLUS 276 passengers and was headed straight to Italy!  Some of the Alexandrian Grain Ships were at least 180 feet long and could carry tons of cargo: wheat, oil, wine, grinders, statues, etc.!  This is the type that was shipwrecked on Malta.

Although many ancient shipwrecks have been discovered, I don’t think the remains of an Alexandrian Grain Ship has been found.  All the discovered wrecks are vessels that plied the ports along the coastlines and the various islands.

Salina Bay — The Place of Paul’s Shipwreck? — Part 3

Mark Gatt has suggested that Salina Bay, just to the east of Saint Paul’s Bay, is actually the place where the ship carrying the Apostle Paul, and 275 other people, ran aground and was wrecked (see below for bibliography).  Why is this?

Note Salina Bay, just the right (east) of the center of the map and also “Ancient Anchors + Artifacts.” Click on the map to Enlarge and/or Download.

To begin, Gatt writes:

Diving in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Salvino Anthony Scicluna mapped various artifacts discovered around the Maltese Islands, but he knew of so many artefacts discovered in a concentration outside Salina Bay, that he believed that this could be a shipwreck site and in fact St Paul’s shipwreck site in 60 AD. (Gatt 97)

On the map above I have noted the place of the ‘concentration of artifacts and anchors,’ mentioned by Scicluna and Gatt as “Ancient Anchors + Artifacts.”  This concentration included artifacts, amphoras, and 5 lead Roman Anchor Stocks.  This led Scicluna to think that this was the site of a shipwreck.  Among the five anchor stocks is the largest Roman Anchor Stock ever discovered. It weighs over 3.5 tons and is 13.5 feet long!  It is now on display in the Malta Maritime Museum (picture below).

The largest Roman Anchor Stock ever discovered that weighs over 3.5 tons and is 13.5 feet long!

Then, on 24 April 2005, Mark Gatt, diving in 118 feet of water, near the ‘Scicluna concentration,’ discovered a large anchor stock that was inscribed with the names of two Egyptian deities: Isis and Sarapis.  This discovery was especially noteworthy because inscribed anchor stocks are rare (but see also Hera here).  This anchor stock was about 7 feet long and weighed about 1 ton—very large indeed!

The Isis — Sarapis anchor stock discovered by Mark Gatt just north of Salina Bay. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This is a detail of the word Isis, that appears in high relief, on this anchor stock.

So what is an “Anchor Stock?”  See the following labeled picture with the typical anchor parts: flukes, shank, stock, and rope.

This is a reconstruction of a typical anchor from the Roman Period. All the parts of this “ancient anchor” are modern except the lead “Stock.”

The “Flukes” are the parts of the anchor, usually wooden and sometimes tipped with copper, that dig into the bottom of the sea. At the top of the wooden shank (right) a rope connects the anchor to the ship. The “stock” is made out of lead and often has a wood core. It helps the anchor to sink and helps to position the anchor so that the “flukes” are perpendicular to, and dig into, the sea bottom—thus securing the ship.  Very few wooden anchors have been preserved—but see below!

Mark Gatt, the discoverer of the “Isis – Serapis” anchor stock posing at a replica of the original anchor.

This replica was constructed for, and used in, the video that present Mark Gatt’s theories about the shipwreck.

Summary:

Acts 27:29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. . . .
38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. . . .
27:40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.

Thus the area where the large anchor stocks, amphoras, and other artifacts were found (marked as “Ancient Anchors + Artifacts” on the above map) fits very well with the events described in Acts 27:28 and 38 as proposed by Mark Gatt—but not the place of the actual shipwreck (as Scicluna)!

This is a full-scale model of what the “Isis — Serapis” anchor would have looked like.

The above replica was produced and used in a video that was produced by Mark Gatt.  It is now on display at the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, Malta.


One prominent exception to the general rule that wooden anchors have not been preserved is the “One Armed Anchor” that was discovered at the site of the Ma’agan Mikhael Shipwreck off the coast of Israel.  The 41-foot ship, from the 5th century B.C. [dated by the pottery], was very well preserved because it was buried deep in the sand and thus protected from aerobic conditions that would have degraded the wood.  Among the finds was a “One-Armed Anchor.”

A One Armed Wooden Anchor from the Fifth Century B.C.    Note the totally preserved wooden shank, stock, and fluke!  The copper on the tip of the fluke is also original! Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This one armed oak anchor was found on the starboard side of the bow of the shipwreck, attached to two ropes, the main anchor rope and trip rope.  Lead was inserted inside the anchor stock to ensure that the anchor would sink to the sea bottom with the arm downwards.  The anchor’s copper nail protected the wood from erosion.

All the wood in the anchor is original!  After excavation, it was soaked in polyethylene glycol for 7-years to help preserve it.  There is a modern metal support on the left curve support the anchor fluke.

To view nine images of the ship as displayed in the Hecht Museum in Haifa, click here.


More on Paul’s Shipwreck in the next post.


For a complete discussion of the shipwreck of Paul see Mark Gatt, Paulus The Shipwreck 60 A.D.  Second edition, 2017.  Malta: Allied Publications.

For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

Saint Paul’s Islands — Shipwreck on Malta Part 2

View looking north at Saint Paul’s Islands that are located at the entrance to Saint Paul’s Bay that is located on the northwest coast of Malta.

Saint Paul’s Islands have been suggested by some to be the place where the ship that the Apostle Paul was on ran aground (Acts 27:6–28:1; see a brief evaluation of some of the evidence at the end of this post).

On the left (west) side of the map, note the location of St. Paul’s Bay and St. Paul’s Islands.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The tip of this peninsula has been suggested by some to be the place where the “two seas met,” near which was the reef on which Paul’s ship ran aground (Acts 27:41).

Acts 27:41 But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. NASB

View looking north at the rocky cliffs of the northern tip of Saint Paul’s Island. A statue of the Apostle Paul is on the left.

 

View of the modern “dock” on Saint Paul’s Island.

Trekking up to the “summit” of Saint Paul’s Island. On the right is a large statue of the Apostle Paul.

View a large statue of the Apostle Paul on the northern tip of Saint Paul’s Islands that are located at the entrance to Saint Paul’s Bay.

Evaluation of some of the evidence:

Acts 27:39 states:

Acts 27:39 And when day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a certain bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could.

Saint Paul’s Bay would qualify as “they could not recognize the land”—for Alexandrian grain ships did not frequent this part of the island of Malta and thus the captain and crew would not have recognized this area.  The captains of grain ships heading from Alexandria (Egypt) to Rome would have headed north for Sicily and the Straits of Messina before reaching the east end of Malta, or in some cases would have wintered in what today is the “Grand Harbor” of Valletta, Malta.

BUT, Saint Paul’s Bay’s shoreline is basically rock scarp, and it lacks sandy beaches, and thus would NOT qualify as  “a certain bay with a beach” where the captain attempted to steer his ship.  Thus, Saint Paul’s Bay was probably not the place of the shipwreck.  (see Gatt pp. 107-109).

An example of the rocky shoreline of Saint Paul’s Bay. The Bay actually lacks beaches! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In our next post, we will examine the “Isis/Sarapis” anchor stock that Mark Gatt discovered.


For a complete discussion of the shipwreck of Paul see Mark Gatt, Paulus The Shipwreck 60 A.D.  Second edition, 2017.  Malta: Allied Publications.

For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

The Shipwreck of Paul on Malta — Part 1

On a recent trip in which we followed in the Footsteps of Paul from His Shipwreck on Malta to His Martyrdom in Rome, we were able to do something very special.  We were able to prevail upon Mark Gatt not only to lecture to us about his discovery of the “Isis/Sarapis” lead anchor stock to the north of Salina Bay (map below), but we were also fortunate enough to have him lead us on a boat trip out on to the waters in and around St. Paul’s Bay and the Salina Bay—two prime candidates for the location of the Shipwreck of Paul (Acts 27:26–28:1).

Mary and Carl with researcher/diver Mark Gatt (center) next to our Luzzu.

To do this, we boarded a traditional Maltese boat called a “Luzzu.”

Our group boarding the Luzzu.

Our nautical adventure took us to two of the places that are candidates as being the site of Paul’s Shipwreck: namely to St. Paul’s Islands and Salina Bay (favored by Gatt).

Who is Mark Gatt?

Mark is a man on a mission. His PAVLVS The Shipwreck 60 AD is the result of a wondrous underwater discovery while scuba diving just off Qawra Point – the remains of a huge Roman-period lead anchor stock embossed with the names of the Egyptian gods ISIS and SARAPI(S). He has been scuba diving for the past 30 years and has been an active volunteer in Civil Protection for the same number of years. For most of this time, Mark was commanding and coordinating a group of rescue divers and was involved in many underwater search and recovery operations for missing persons at sea.

In our next post, we will take a look at St. Paul’s Islands.

Lifting Heavy Stones!

Over the years I have seen various diagrams illustrating how the ancient Greeks and Romans—not to mention Herod the Great—lifted heavy stones into place as they constructed the walls of temples and erected columns.  But the first time that I heard about a Lewis Bolt was watching a fascinating DVD put out by The Great Courses entitled Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From the Catapult to the Pantheon.

In traveling to Greece and Turkey the use of iron and lead to secure columns and other architectural elements was very evident.

The Three Part "Lewis Bolt" — Note shape of the cavity that is carved into the stone that is to be lifted — The three parts of the bolt are inserted into the cavity and as lifting takes place the bolt becomes more firmly embedded!

The Three Part “Lewis Bolt” — Note that the shape of the cavity that is carved into the stone that is to be lifted is wider at the bottom than at the top — The three parts of the bolt are inserted into the cavity and as lifting takes place the bolt becomes more firmly embedded!

In the diagram above a rope or chain was attached to the loop to lift the stone.

I found that the use of Lewis Bolts was actually very common.  So on a recent trip to Turkey and Greece I began to look more carefully at the carvings into column and architectural pieces that might exhibit where Lewis Bolts may have been used.

The two square indentations were for iron pegs that secured this piece to its mate — note the grooves that lead to the square holes, for lead to cover the iron to avoid rust — The RECTANGULAR opening is for the Lewis Bolt that was used to lift this large piece (see diagram above)

The two square indentations were for iron pegs that secured this piece to its mate — note the grooves that lead to the square holes, for lead to cover the iron to avoid rust — The RECTANGULAR opening is for the Lewis Bolt that was used to lift this large piece (see diagram above)

At Alexandria Troas we were able to examine close up a number of archectural pieces, some of which exhibited the use of a Lewis Bolt to lift them (see above).  The Lewis Bolt indentations are difficult to photograph, but trust me, if you know what to look for you will find them—just stick your finger into the holes and find out how they are shaped!

The diagram above is from “Lewis (lifting appliance)” — Wikipedia

Anastylosis — Or, why is part of this photo colored blue?

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Coffers, Roof & Capitals of the Nymphaeum in the
Upper Agora at Sagalassos
ALL BUT the blue pieces (I have shaded them blue) are original pieces that were found at the foot of the Nymphaeum and were used in the reconstruction (anastylosis)

The Turkish site of Sagalassos is situated on a remote mountain slope and because of this, building stones from the site have not been carted off by locals nor were very much reused in antiquity.

Thus, when Professor Marc Waelkens and his team were excavating the Nymphaeum in the Upper Agora at Sagalassos they found over 3,500 pieces of the structure and by carefully matching them together they were able to form 400 blocks and columns.

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The Upper Agora Nymphaeum after excavation as the process of reconstruction begins. Over 3,500 pieces of the superstructure were found at its base and were carefully reassembled into 400 blocks and columns.

By using these reconstructed blocks and columns, and supplementing these originals with carefully crafted modern pieces, Waelkens and his team have been able to recreate the stunning Nymphaeum, the Heroon, and other structures at Sagalassos.

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The Nymphaeum (from the same angle as the above photo)
AFTER reconstruction (anastylosis)
Click on Image to Enlarge

Sag-After-Anastylosis

Sag-Before-Anastylosis

To view the reconstructed Nymphaeum, with water in it(!!), Click Here.

The famous “Library” at Ephesus was similarly reconstructed.

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The “Library” at Ephesus after reconstruction (anastylosis)
Click on Image to Enlarge