A mysterious, century-old shipwreck found 40 years ago off Israel's coast has been tentatively revealed to be a priceless find: the long-lost ship of a French baron, say Haifa University archaeologists. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild—who moved raw materials from France to a glass factory he constructed in Tantura, near the Jewish settlement he founded at Zichron Yaakov—used three ships in the late 19th century, two of which were later sold. The fate of the third had been lost to history, but perhaps no longer. "The ship we have found is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron's ships, carried a similar cargo, and sailed and sank during the right period," researchers tell Haaretz. Carbon-14 dating of the vessel's wood initially dated the two-masted wreck to 1660 to 1960, a huge range. But when researchers returned to the ship in 2008, they found rope that helped establish a late 19th-century date.
Its contents—including pots, earthenware, ceramic tiles, roof tiles, barrels, and crates—also provided clues. Manufacturer markings from six French factories in operation in the late 1800s were identified; the motif of one company, apparently in business from 1889 to 1897, further focused the time period. The kicker came with one particular pot containing barium sulfate, used to boost the transparency and shine of glass, per Phys.org; Baron de Rothschild built a glass factory at Tantura to produce wine bottles for wineries in Zichron Yaakov. Researchers admit the wreck could "be one of dozens of similar ships that plied the coasts of Palestine during this period," but they tell LiveScience it is "very probable" that it belonged to the Baron as "there seem to be more than a few items that connect it with Zichron Yaakov, with the glass factory at Tantura, and with the Baron's ships." (Some 1,000 shipwrecks haunt this sea.)