THE AGAY A SHIPWRECK

This shipwreck was discovered at a depth of 50 metres in the Agay (Var) Roads during the 1970s by Alain Visquis who explored its cargo.



Overall view of the hull

Further exploration didn't take place till 1996 when a more specific puzzle was highlighted: how the "shell-first" naval construction method used in Antiquity had gradually evolved into a "frame-first" construction method and, given the lack of geometric knowledge necessary for mathematical projections of the ship's design, what processes were used for this method of construction.
This development is apparent from the early Middle Ages as seen in the Yassi Ada I wreck in Turkey and the Gervais 2 wreck described above.


On the other hand, this wreck, along with its twin at Batéguier, belongs to a civilisation which has left few traces on our coast and even on the Mediterranean as a whole, the Xth Century A.D.Andalusian Caliphate of Cordova. In fact, since the VIIth Century A.D. the Western Mediterranean was divided between Christianity and Islamism. The two cultures competed for dominance of the region. However, trading persisted as we can see from ceramics made in Majorca, Andalusia and Ifrika found in the towns of the Christian world. In the Xth Century A.D., the golden age of the Omniad Dynasty, Al Andalus actually controlled the Western Mediterranean through the bases established by his privateers on the islands (the Balearic Islands and Sardinia) and on the coasts of Christian countries, for example: at Garde Freinet (Massif des Maures), not far from the Agay site.
It is too early at present to speculate on the reasons for the presence of the wreck in this sector. We cannot exclude the hypothesis of a naval battle given the existence of a second, absolutely contemporary wreck lying perpendicular to the first one and an isolated hull fragment beneath an earthenware jar of the same period a few hundred metres to the south-east of the main site.

Other earthenware jars of the same type, which might be hiding the remains of other ships, have been reported in the area. The ship's cargo consisted of millstones made of Esterel rhyolite, copper pins (about 300), copper cauldrons with handles (one of which bears a graffito type inscription in Arabic characters) and about a dozen large earthenware jars whose contents are unknown. The few dishes, jarro, jarrita, jarra, or oil lamps, are closed, and seem most likely to have been part of the ship's equipment.


Earthenware jar
decorated with digitated frieze



Detail of bilge

The main interest of the site lies in the study of the ship's construction and shape. It is a flat-bottomed ship, about 25 metres long and with a 4-metre beam. A "frame-first" construction method is suggested by the fact that the planking strakes are not connected, by the homogeneity of the framework through the keel/floor timbers, and even keel/half-timbers, the way the bilges are covered by half-timbers to compensate for the weakness of the joints between the floors and the futtocks.
Other excavation operations are planned to show the different phases of the ship's construction. This is the only approach possible if we are to understand the design methods for a ship built on the "frames-first" principle in the Xth Century A.D.


Excavation : Jean-Pierre Joncheray : Photos : Jean-Pierre Joncheray