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.
To date, researchers from France, the United States, and Malta have recovered 20 lava grinding stones, weighing some 35kg each, and 50 amphorae of seven different types, which suggests the ship had visited different harbours. Based on the cargo, scientists believe the ship was sailing from Sicily to Malta to sell its cargo when it sank.
The Phoenician civilization, which lasted from 1550 BC to 300 BC, was based in present-day Tyre in Lebanon. They travelled across most of the Mediterranean, not as conquerors but as traders. The strategic location of the Malta in the Mediterranean made the islands a safe refuge for the Phoenicians during their long sea voyages.
Earlier this year, Swedish divers made a unique and rare discovery in the Baltic Sea – Stone Age artifacts left by Swedish nomads dating back 11,000 years. Björn Nilsson, archaeology professor at Södertörn University, and his team, have been given resources by the Swedish National Heritage Board to conduct a three-year excavation below the water’s surface in Hanö, a sandy bay off the coast of Skåne County. While excavations are still underway, so far, they have uncovered a number of remnants that are believed to have been discarded in the water by Swedes in the Stone Age, objects which have been preserved thanks to the lack of oxygen and the abundance of sediment rich in organic matter at the bottom of a eutrophic lake.
It is extremely rare to find evidence from the Stone Age so unspoiled. Buried 16 metres below the surface, Nilsson uncovered wood, flint tools, animal horns and ropes. Among the most notable items found include a harpoon carving made from an animal bone, and the bones of an ancient animal called aurochs, the ancestor of domestic cattle, the last of which died off in the early 1600s.
In the first underwater exploration of its kind, a Greek and international team of divers and archaeologists used a new high-tech exosuit to reach deep waters in which the world-renowned Antikythera wreck had lain for two thousand years. Their investigation proved that remnants of the ships luxury cargo has survived for millennia on the sea floor as new treasures have been retrieved from the depths. The rescued antiquities include tableware, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue.
During investigations between September 15 and October 7, 2014, researchers created a high-resolution 3D map of the site. Divers then recovered a series of finds which prove that much of the ship’s cargo is indeed still preserved beneath the sediment. “Components of the ship, including multiple lead anchors over a metre long and a bronze rigging ring with fragments of wood still attached, prove that much of the ship survives,” said the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in a media release. “The finds are also scattered over a much larger area than the sponge divers realized, covering 300 meters of the seafloor. This together with the huge size of the anchors and recovered hull planks proves that the Antikythera ship was much larger than previously thought, perhaps up to 50 meters long.”
Archaeologists believe there are many more items from the cargo still to be found and remain hopeful of finding additional parts to the Antikythera mechanism, or other automata. They will be returning to the site next season to continue explorations.
On September 6, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, announced that one of the fabled lost ships of Sir John Franklin’s expedition had been found off Hat Island, south-west of King William Island. The ships HMS Erebus and Terror, which sailed from England in the summer of 1845, were aiming to chart the north-west passage. They disappeared into what is now the Canadian Arctic. Stranded in the ice north-west of King William Island in the summer of 1846, the ships were abandoned by the surviving officers and men in the spring of 1848. There were no survivors.
The wooden ship was found sitting upright on the sea bed in a depth of 11 metres. The vessel appeared to be almost intact, although the masts are missing. More artifacts will undoubtedly emerge soon and hopefully reveal the mystery of the ships’ disappearance.
Marine archaeologists in Canada discovered an ancient site dating back 13,800 years underwater near the Haida Gwaii Archipelago in British Columbia, Canada. The site, consisting of a stone weir – a man-made channel used to corral fish – was once on dry land and had been inhabited by the Haida people.
In Haida folklore, there is an old flood tale that tells of how the people were forced to move by floodwaters, and how their people came to be dispersed in the New World.
The oldest artifact ever found previously in Canada came from near the same weir site, in Gwaii Hanaas National Park Preserve from 12,700 years ago. The latest finding therefore constitutes the oldest ever evidence of human habitation in Canada.
An excavation at the port of Urla underwater archaeological site in Turkey revealed a sunken ship that is believed to date back 4,000 years. The surprising discovery is the oldest known shipwreck ever found in the Mediterranean, and is also among the oldest known shipwrecks worldwide.
The port of Urla, which served the ancient Greek settlement of Klazomenai, sunk following a natural disaster, probably an earthquake, in the 8th century BC, making the area popular for underwater research. Numerous sunken ships have already been found in Urla, ranging from the 2nd century BC to the Ottoman period. Uncovering a ship that is believed to date back to around 2,000 BC, is incredibly rare and significant and an important milestone for archaeology.
Divers were mapping submerged caves in Mexico’s Eastern Yucatan Peninsula around 12 miles north of the city of Tulum, when they came across the most complete skeleton of its age ever found in the Americas, dating back between 12,000 and 13,000 years old. The ancient skeleton, which has been named “Naia” (ancient Greek for ‘water nymph’), belongs to an adolescent girl who fell more than 100 feet to her death nearly a half mile inside an elaborate network of caves that were largely dry at the end of the Pleistocene era.
The skeleton contains both the craniofacial features of ancient Paleoamericans and mitochondrial DNA possessed by later Native Americans. This suggests that the differences in features between Paleoamericans and modern Native Americans may be the result of evolutionary changes over a period of some 9,000 years, rather than being the result of separate migrations from south-east Asia or even Europe.