An eighteenth-century merchantman off the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia


  • Chiara Zazzaro
  • Romolo Loreto
  • Chiara Visconti


Red Sea, Saudi Arabia, shipwreck, porcelain, Ottoman Empire


In September 2015, a team of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) and the Università di Napoli ‘L’Orientale’ started an underwater survey in the area between YanbuΚ al-BaΉr and Umm Lajj on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. The focus of the survey was to locate and survey a shipwreck previously identified at a reef off the Umm Lajj coast. Once there, the team realized that parts of the hull and cargo were still exposed and clearly visible. The presumed stern was occupied by a mound of around 1000 jars, the midship by large storage jars, while some blue and white Chinese porcelain cups were spotted in the starboard quarter side. A preliminary analysis of the Chinese porcelain suggests that the cargo dates to the middle of the eighteenth century and that the ship was presumably a merchantman similar to the previously investigated wrecks off Sadana Island and Sharm al-Shaikh in Egypt. Among the cargo visible on the sea floor, the team also identified scattered fragments of basins, glass bottles, and coconut husks, as well as possible personal objects such as clay pipes.
Frames and stringers emerged from the sandy bottom, their size suggesting a large hull structure.
Surveying methods to map the site included the use of video recording and 3-D photogrammetry methods. Measurements, handmade drawings, and 3-D photogrammetry have been used for small objects, such as single pottery artefacts and isolated elements of the hull.
The Umm Lajj shipwreck offers great potential both for conducting a long-term scientific investigation and for underwater excavation training for archaeologists and students. The cargo and the ship have important historical value considering that they represent the last pieces of evidence for the Egyptian-Arabian trade circuit before the European expansion in the Red Sea, a period in the history of this sea that is still insufficiently investigated.





How to Cite

Zazzaro, C., Loreto, R., & Visconti, C. (2017). An eighteenth-century merchantman off the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 47, 253–265. Retrieved from

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