Top Ten Underwater Discoveries of 2014
Out of all the amazing archaeological discoveries made each and every day around the world, those that emerge from the depths of the ocean are among the most captivating. There is something about the underwater world that captures our imagination – perhaps it is the curiosity and intrigue about what else may lie beneath the surface, or the idea that entire cities may be hidden on the ocean floor, out of sight and out of reach. Fortunately, underwater discoveries are not always out of reach and every year more incredible findings are made thanks to advancing technology in the field of marine archaeology. Here we present ten remarkable marine discoveries of 2014.
During the 13th century, the Mongols, led by Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, attempted two major invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281 AD. However, on both occasions, a massive typhoon obliterated the Mongol fleet, forcing the attackers to abandon their plans and fortuitously saving Japan from foreign conquest. The Japanese believed the typhoons had been sent from the gods to protect them from their enemies and called them Kamikaze (‘divine wind’). This year, archaeologists found one of the Mongol ships off Takashima island in Nagasaki Prefecture.
The ship was found using sonar equipment, lying 14 metres below the surface, about 1.7 kilometres away from another Mongolian warship that was discovered in 2011. The wreck is comprised of port and starboard structures near the bow of the ship, with preserved planks of wood that are around 11 metres long. Divers also found stone ballast, and archaeologists are hoping that the ship's keel lies underneath. "We plan to clarify details like its structure, size and origin by excavating further,” said Yoshifumi Ikeda, a professor of archaeology at the university who is leading the research effort. “It's well preserved, so we expect it to carry a significant load of cargo like porcelains and weapons.”
An archaeological team equipped with a mini-submarine made a spectacular discovery while exploring in deep water around the Aeolian Islands of Pantelleria, Lipari and Panarea – a 2,000-year-old sunken ship, complete with dozens of amphorae, plates, bowls, and anchors. One of the most exceptional discoveries was a well-preserved sacrificial altar on a pedestal containing decorative carvings of waves. While historical sources have referred to sailors making sacrifices to the gods to ensure a safe journey or to give thanks for having navigated a difficult passage, this is one of the first examples of an altar on a ship that may have been used for such purposes.
Thrilled with the results, the Superintendent of the Sea, Sebastiano Tusa, said [translated]: "I have seen and touched dozens of ancient and modern wrecks in my long career as an archaeologist, but to be able to reach a wreck of a ship sunk 2,000 years ago, which is in the dark and in the silence of 130 feet deep, gave me an indescribable feeling.” The wreck, along with the recovered artifacts, are currently undergoing further analysis to further understand the origin, destination, and life on board the ancient ship.
An excavation site off of Haifa, Israel, revealed a 7,500-year-old water well and Neolithic village, 5 meters (16 feet) underwater due to prehistoric sea-level rise, drowning out what may have been the oldest olive oil production center of the world.
The well is thought to have supplied fresh water to the village. According to Flinders University maritime archaeologist Jonathan Benjamin, “Water wells are valuable to Neolithic archaeology because once they stopped serving their intended purpose, people used them as big rubbish bins.” Once sea levels began to rise the fresh well water became salty, and the villagers used it instead for their refuse, throwing in animal bones and food scraps.
Benjamin notes that the location may have been the oldest olive oil production center of the world, based on previous excavations. A study in the Journal of Archaeological Science describes the thousands of crushed olive stones and early olive-oil production technology found in pits at the prehistoric site in the 1990s.
A group of divers discovered a Phoenician shipwreck dating back to 700 BC off the coast of Gozo island in Malta. It is a unique and immensely important finding as it is the oldest known shipwreck in the central Mediterranean, it is among the oldest and most complete Phoenician ships ever recovered, and it will serve to shed light on inter-regional trade and exchange in antiquity.