How Archaeologists Discovered and Excavated the Famous Galilean Boat

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The discovery of the Galilean boat was by chance – or, as some would put it, by sheer will and grace of the gods. What was considered a curse turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was blessing because what was discovered expanded our knowledge of the first-century boats and seafaring on the ‘Sea’ of Galilee. The discovery also settled once-and-for-all the debate on the crew size and the type of fishing vessels Jesus used to carry out his ministry.


Slightly over three decades ago, a severe drought hit the Land of Israel. In the north, the sacred lake – the ‘Sea’ of Galilee was drying up; the water levels had receded so much so that the lake’s bottom was visible. It had seemed that nature had decided the fate of the holy lake amid controversial discussions of climate change.


The Galilean boat was a controversy in its own respect, and it had been running for centuries. Luckily, it was about to be solved. To demonstrate the gravity and seriousness of this controversy, you can visit works by three famous painters:

  • The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Raphael (1515)
  • Christ on the Lake of Gennesaret by Delacroix (1853-1854)
  • Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt (1663)


What was common about the images of portrayed by the three paintings?


Nothing. In a span of three hundred years, the famous painters couldn’t agree on the most conventional way of portraying what the Galilean boat looked like. This clearly shows how deep the controversy was. And that’s exactly what this article’s all about.


The Severe Drought


In 1986, a severe drought left most of Israel dry and famished. Worryingly, the water levels of the Sea of Galilee were dropping. And since the lake’s bottom was visible, one could come across mud flats. Two brothers, Yuval and Moshe, who resided in Kibbutz Ginosar, one of the most fertile areas on earth, were on a mission to discover an ancient boat.


Their journey to discover the ancient boat began when they witnessed the spinning wheels of a vehicle stuck in a mud flat spluttering a mixture of mud, coins and artifacts. The location of this area was south of Kibbutz near Migdal – a historic site where Mary Magdalene resided. After surveying the area deeply, they discovered iron nails and the edge outline of a wooden bar, which indicated a mud filled boat.


This was a turning point. A team of volunteers removed mud from the boat, exposing wood, which was vulnerable to direct sunlight. And since the insolation was burningly hot, the team had to erect shades to protect the boat. In addition, the volunteers covered the boat with tarpaulin. And because of many years of decaying and soaking, the wooden planks were fragile, and so to conserve the find, the mud removal process was done with caution. It was a slow process that took hours to perform, and the volunteers did it in shifts.


The wooden planks had absorbed so much water, and their structural strength was comparable to that of a soaked plant foam. This meant that a slight touch could break the wood, and so the team erected scaffolds to allow volunteers to remove mud without actually touching the boat. This framework also supported the tarpaulin. Word of the boat’s discovery reached the hull construction expert – Dick Steffy. By the time of his arrival, most of the ship’s hull and starboard had been exposed.


So Finally…


The discovery of the first-century Galilean boat in 1986 settled the debate that had been running for centuries about the appearance and crew size of the boat. This discovery was a blessing amid adversity in a time when the debates about climate change were taking shape.

How Archaeologists Discovered and Excavated the Famous Galilean Boat

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