22 Shipwrecks spanning Ancient Era to the Renaissance discovered at Aegean archipelago
Archaeologists doing an underwater survey in the Aegean Sea in Greek territorial waters have found an amazing 22 shipwrecks of merchant vessels that sank between 700 BC and the 16th century AD. The researchers have surveyed just 5 percent of the coasts of the Fourni archipelago and expect to find many more shipwrecks there when they return to continue their survey.
The lead researcher, Peter Campbell, told Ancient Origins the large number of wrecks in the small area surveyed is because of the volume of ancient ship traffic, not because of dangerous waters.
“It’s such a rare find,” Campbell said in an electronic message. Experts are calling this one of the top archaeological discoveries of 2015.
The Fourni archipelago covers an area of 17 square miles (44 square kilometers) between the islands of Icaria and Samos and is right in the middle of an ancient east-west trade route and another route running north to south that connected the Aegean and Black Sea area to the Levant of the eastern Mediterranean.
“We're still working on trying to figure out size [of the ships] as it was just a survey,” underwater archaeologist Peter Campbell, co-leader of the survey, told Ancient Origins. “So there are buried deposits and there has been a lot of looting (theft) of artifacts over the years.
“These were all merchant sailing ships. We don't exactly know where the ships' origins were, but we can infer some things from their primary cargo. Most appear to be either from the Black Sea region or the North Aegean.”
Several amphorae or jars of a type never before found on shipwrecks were found among the 22 wrecks at Fourni archipelago. (Photo by V. Mentogianis)
Campbell is with the University of Southampton. He is co-director of the RPM Nautical Foundation, which is based in the United States. He worked with archaeologists from the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquties. They also worked with local fishermen, free divers and sponge divers, who had been telling stories for years about the wrecks.
This was the first underwater survey of the Fourni archipelago. The west coast of Samos and Icaria do not have harbors or even anchorages, so Fourni was the safest place for ships to stop.
This map shows Ikaria and Samos off the coast of Turkey with Istanbul far to the northeast. Shipwreck news is coming out of the Aegean near Samos and out of Istanbul, both of which were on the same ancient shipping routes. (Map by Eric Gabe/Wikimedia Commons)
“The wrecks are both shallow and deep,” Campbell told Ancient Origins. “The volume of wrecks is because Fourni is along arterial trade routes, but it was a safe place to anchor. Other islands with similar coastlines only have 3-5 wrecks around them, so it isn't just the depth. It has to do with the volume of traffic over many centuries.”
More than half of the ships were wrecked during the Late Roman Period of 300 to 600 AD. Other ships were from the Archaic Period of 700 to 480 BC, the Classical period of 480 to 323 BC, the Hellenistic of 323 to 31 BC, through the Late Medieval of the 16th century, according to Discovery.
Three of the ships had amphora types that hadn’t been found previously on shipwrecks. The cargoes show evident trade between the Aegean and Black seas, Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt during every phase. The team took representative artifacts from each shipwreck to analyze and perhaps later put them on display to the public.
The team took representative artifacts from each of 22 wrecks for further analysis and possibly eventual museum display. (Photo by V. Mentogianis)
In other news, Hurriyet Daily News says analysis of 37 ships excavated between 2005 and 2013 during construction of a subway in Istanbul is shedding light on ancient shipbuilding techniques and materials. Those ships had all sunk many years ago in Istanbul’s Theodosius Harbor of the Sea of Marmara.
Teams from the Istanbul Archaeology Museum are documenting and protecting thousands of artifacts from the wrecks and doing conservation work on 27 of the 37 ships, said Associate Professor Ufuk Kocabaş of Istanbul University’s Department of Conservation and Restoration.
A restored ancient ship with artifacts on display in Istanbul (Hurriyet Daily News photo)
“The recent data shows that among these Byzantine-era ships, the ones from the 5th and 7th centuries were made of needle-leaved trees such as cypress and pine trees, while the ones from the 9th and 11th centuries were totally made of large-leafed trees including oak and chestnut trees, and those between the 7th and 9th centuries were made of both type of trees,” Kocabas said in a statement. “There is an evident change in the material of ships between the 5th and 11th centuries. The observations of 27 shipwrecks, which date back for a long time period, shed light on ship construction techniques in the Byzantine era and also the changes in the use of wood through time.”
Featured image: The team found amphoras of a type that have never been found in shipwrecks before. They also found anchors, pottery used by the crew and cooking pots. (Photo by V. Mentogianis)
By: Mark Miller