Archaeologists discover 22 surprising shipwrecks near a Greek archipelago

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A few days ago, the Greek ministry of culture denoted a 3,500-year old warrior grave as the ‘most important to have been discovered in 65 years in continental Greece.’ But now it seems, another incredible discovery has triumphed it at least in terms of sheer scale. To that end, a joint Greek-American archaeological expedition (with members from the RPM Nautical Foundation) had found a string of 22 shipwrecks over an assessment period of 13 days. Located off the coasts of Fourni, a tiny Greek archipelago which is geographically closer to Turkey, the underwater archaeologists were initially interested by some local reports of submerged pottery specimens. But on further excavation and analysis, the researchers were extremely surprised by what turned out to be a mass underwater graveyard for various ships encompassing just 17 sq miles (44 sq km) of area.

Incredibly enough, these ships have never been evidenced before – with their ‘age’ spectrum starting from the ancient Archaic period (700-480 BC) to the late medieval period (16th century AD). And, as with their disparate dates, the shipwrecks were also salvaged from different depths below the sea, ranging from 180 ft (55 m) to 10 ft (3 m). Moreover, just to put things into perspective, up till now, historians had documented around 180 well-preserved shipwreck specimens from the entire coastal scope of Greece. And now, adding 22 to that number, increases the venerable tally of discoveries by a whopping 12 percent.

From the historical perspective, Fourni was known for its strategic location along the Aegean marine routes, and as such was even developed as a small hub during the ancient times. A few Roman sources also designate the area as a prosperous zone with a burgeoning population and marble-mining industry. However, the researchers were still shocked by the proximity of these shipwrecks to the relatively small area, since the archipelago didn’t really boast of any big commercial city. And as we mentioned before, the age-scope of the ships extend across a large time period, with most specimens belonging to the late Roman era (300-600 AD), while others pertaining to the Archaic period, Classical period, Hellenistic period and even late medieval period.

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Interestingly, beyond just the sheer number of the ships, the archaeologists were also taken aback by the variety of cargoes that were carried by these different marine vessels. In that regard, the experts have come across Samian amphoras from the Archaic period, Sinopean (carrot-shaped) amphoras from the Roman times, and large Black Sea amphoras dating from 2nd century AD that specially carried fish sauce. These artifacts have never been found in extant conditions (in Mediterranean shipwrecks) before this underwater excavation project. As for the mysterious reasons relating to the ‘demise’ of so many ships in a particular area, the archaeologists suspect that most of them were probably caught by surprise storms, while others possibly had malfunctioning on-board components.

Now presently, in terms of the expedition ambit, the researchers have only assessed about 5 percent of the archipelago’s coastline. Suffice it to say, they are expecting to find even more shipwrecks in the coming days. And this time around, the team is also looking forth to use more advanced equipment, including underwater robots (like in the case of the Antikythera Mechanism), for precisely locating the ancient remains before actually salvaging and examining them.

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Via: LiveScience / All Images Credit: V. Mentogianis

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