Iraq Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

A diver exploring one of the wreck sites.

23 Wrecks Found in Ship Graveyard in Aegean Sea in Just 22 Days

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It is the second time in a little over the year that researchers in Greece have announced the discovery of nearly two dozen sunken ships in the Aegean Sea. In the area of Fourni, a group of 13 islands between the islands of Samos and Icaria in Greece, a place known as the ‘ship graveyard’, they recovered magnificent treasures among the ancient wrecks.

According to National Geographic, 23 ships were discovered last month, the oldest of them dating back to 525 BC.  Among the wrecks were ship cargoes from the Classical period (480-323 BC), the Hellenistic period (323-31 BC), the Late Roman period (300-600 AD), and the Medieval period (500-1500 AD). During the exploration they found stunning artifacts including bowls, plates, pots, storage jars, lamps, black painted ceramic fine-ware, and more.

An earthenware vessel found at one of the shipwreck sites.

An earthenware vessel found at one of the shipwreck sites. Credit: Vasilis Mentogianis

Most of the artifacts that survived are amphorae, which are clay storage jars. In ancient times, they were used by merchant ships to transport cargo of olive oil, wine, fish sauce, and other condiments. Due to the state of preservation of the amphorae, it is possible to identify their place of origin as the styles and the visually distinct vessels are still visible. Incredibly, the vessels were found to originate in Cyprus, Egypt, Samos, Patmos, Asia Minor, mainland Greece, Rome, Spain, and even North Africa.

Several amphorae found at a shipwreck site

Several amphorae found at a shipwreck site. Credit: Vasilis Mentogianis

The wrecks were discovered by a team led by George Koutsouflakis and his co-director Peter Campbell of RPM Nautical. They started the research in the 2016 season with a team of 25 divers, archaeologists, and artifact conservators. After only 22 days they discovered an impressive 23 wrecks.

As they described:

''As we hovered above the suspected site the first two divers strapped on roughly 50 pounds of gear and tumbled backward over opposite sides of the boat, leaving only a froth of surface bubbles as they descended. One of the divers was Manos Mitikas, the local Fourni free diver who called Koutsouflakis a year ago with the map of wrecks. His leads had already helped the team discover many shipwrecks. This morning they were searching a site at a depth of more than 197 feet (60 meters). Scuba tanks were essential. We waited on the surface, the waves pushing us away from the drop point. The moments while divers are submerged are always tense. Even experts risk equipment failures, insufficient decompression, and the dangerous confusion induced by nitrogen narcosis. After 25 long minutes an inflatable red buoy finally popped above the surface of the waves. They'd found the wreck and marked its position.''

the remains of an ancient ship found near Fourni in Greece.

The remains of an ancient ship found near Fourni in Greece. Credit: Vasilis Mentogianis

It is not a first discovery by this team. A little bit more than a year ago Mark Miller from Ancient Origins reported that the researchers found another impressive group of wrecks in the same sea. He wrote:

''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.

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''

A diver explores a sunken cargo of amphorae from the late Archaic period (c. 525-480 BC).

A diver explores a sunken cargo of amphorae from the late Archaic period (c. 525-480 BC). Credit: Vasilis Mentogianis

The researchers discovered 45 wrecks during two seasons only, however, the finds have caused conflict between fishermen and archeologists. After registering the underwater sites, the Greek government typically prohibits fishing in the area. While such an impressive amount of wrecks brought huge fame to the researchers, it also brought many troubles. Koutsouflakis decided to make the conflict smaller so, working from within the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, he has helped to drastically reduce the size of the banned areas. However, archeologists will need to spend many seasons investigating the sites before tha bans can be lifted.

Top image: A diver exploring one of the wreck sites. Credit: Vasilis Mentogianis

By Natalia Klimzcak



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

Next article