Prof. Yaacov Kahanov (1947 - 2016)

Yaacov (Yak) Kahanov (1947‒2016), Senior Researcher at the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and Professor Emeritus at the Department of Maritime Civilizations of the University of Haifa, was a pioneer of nautical archaeology in Israel. During his academic career he directed dozens of underwater excavation seasons, excavating and studying 14 shipwrecks along the Israeli coast, mainly in Dor and Akko.

Prof. Kahanov was the principal researcher, conservator and restorer of the 5th century BCE Ma‘agan Mikhael ship. The shipwreck was discovered in 1985, and excavated in 1988 and 1989. The ship’s timbers were dismantled underwater, retrieved, and after conservation, reassembled in the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa. It is the best preserved ship of the period, and has been thoroughly studied and published under his supervision.

Kahanov (left) in Kyrenia
Working on the construction of Ma‘agan Mikhael 2 – the replica ship. Photo by J. Tresman
Ma‘agan Mikhael 2 – the replica ship under sail. Photo by A. Efremov

Prof. Kahanov directed the construction of a full-scale sailing replica of the Ma‘agan Mikhael ship, using the techniques of the ancient shipwrights. The project benefited from the aid of generous donations and research grants, and enjoyed the use of the workshop of the Israel Nautical College at Akko. The construction involved many specialists and volunteers, and lasted two years (2014‒2016). The research objectives were twofold: (1) In-depth research of ancient ship construction by the ‘shell-first’ method using mortise-and-tenon joints and sewing; and (2) Testing the ship’s sailing capabilities while learning about life on board.

After his retirement and spite of a long struggle with illness, Prof. Kahanov supervised the building, guiding a large number of students and volunteers while maintaining the highest scientific and professional standards. He did not live to see the launch of the Ma‘agan Mikhael II replica ship in March 2017. In his quiet but uncompromising way, Prof. Kahanov was a role model for his successors. He had fruitful connections with his peers among the leading international researchers and scholars, and contributed significantly to the study of ancient ships and seafaring.