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Archaeologists at work at one of the 8 digs at the Piraeus Port aqueduct discovery area.

Ancient Greek Piraeus Port Aqueduct, Wells, and 4000 Artifacts Found

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Archaeologists excavating in Greece have uncovered a historic Piraeus port aqueduct and wells that date back over 2000 years, and about 4000 objects, many of them wooden, have been unearthed as part of this amazing discovery in the historic port of Athens. The Piraeus port aqueduct, wells and artifacts are helping researchers to better understand the history of Hellenistic and Roman Athens.

The remarkable find was made during a construction project to extend the Athens metro to Piraeus. This project entailed working at a greater depth than usual which resulted in the discovery of the ancient aqueduct, wells, and artifacts. Giorgos Peppas, the coordinator of the excavations, told Archaeology News Network that the ‘stations being built in Piraeus and the shafts sunk into the earth have been mostly dug in Piraeus squares and open spaces that had never been built over’. Excavators worked on eight sites during the digs.

A Preserved Treasure Trove Found in the Piraeus Port Wells

Some 50-60 feet (17-18m) beneath the surface, the archaeologists found a number of wells.  At the bottom of these wells they found a treasure trove of archaeological finds. An archaeologist who took part in the study stated that ‘We found very rare material - wooden and organic residues, which had remained in the water under the water table for nearly 20 centuries’ according to Archaeology News Network .

In all, about 4,000 items were found in the wells including almost 400 utensils, and, according to Ekathimerini.com, around 1,300 were ‘rare wooden objects which come from houses, household items, furniture and tools.’ This is the largest collection of wooden artifacts from the classical world ever found in Greece. It is believed that the wells where the objects were found date from the Hellenistic era .

The Piraeus Port Aqueduct Find: New Goth and Roman Insights

Many of the objects came from homes but others include branches and other organic material that could provide important insights into the ancient environment. One of the rarest finds in the wells was a headless, extremely rare wooden statue of the god Hermes dated to the Hellenistic period, that probably dates to the sacking of Athens by the Romans. Pappas is quoted in Archaeology News Network as saying that ‘In essence, we are finding Hellenistic Piraeus in the wells.’

Rare headless Hermes statue found in one of the Piraeus port aqueduct wells

Rare headless Hermes statue found in one of the Piraeus port aqueduct wells ( Athens-Macedonian News Agency )

Piraeus was the main port of Athens in the Classical period and was located some distance from the capital. The Athenians built the ‘Long Walls’ to guard Piraeus and connect it with the capital. After the Spartan victory in the Peloponnesian War , the Long Walls were torn down (404 BC). Even though the walls were rebuilt, Piraeus went into decline. It became prosperous again in the Hellenistic period but began to decline once more after the sacking of Athens by the Roman general Sulla (86 BC) and the ports subsequent destruction by the Goths in the 4 th century AD. Piraeus only returned to commercial importance in modern times. Today, Piraeus is the primary port of Athens as well as part of the Greek capital’s metropolitan area.

Piraeus Aqueduct Find Leads to Rare Headless Hermes Statue

A number of finds in the newly found Piraeus port wells are truly remarkable. The exceedingly rare statue of the god Hermes, the messenger of the Olympian gods , found in the wells, though headless, probably dates to the Roman destruction of the city in 85 BC. A beautiful original pebble stone mosaic was also unearthed by the team of archaeologists.

At the site of the largest dig, some ancient structures were found and sections of an aqueduct. These were once the water supply system for Piraeus. Peppas stated that ‘The uncovering of the aqueduct is very important’, reports Archaeology News Network .  A preliminary examination of the site has led the team to believe that water was conveyed to Piraeus from Ardittis Hill via Athens and along the Long Walls.

Piraeus Port Find Sheds Light on Water System and Goths

The Piraeus port aqueduct discovery has helped the researchers to better understand the development of the ancient port’s water system. The section of the water system they found was probably built between the 2 nd century AD and the 5 th century AD. Peppas told Archaeology News Network that ‘we were able to make a timeline of its operation; that is, from its construction, which must have taken place in the years of Hadrian, to its abandonment during the Gothic invasions.’

A closeup of a few of the artifacts found at the Piraeus port aqueduct discovery digs

A closeup of a few of the artifacts found at the Piraeus port aqueduct discovery digs ( Athens-Macedonian News Agency )

The metro construction works have continued even after the archaeologists began excavating the wells and water system. Evangelos Kolovos, director of the project extending the metro line, is quoted by The Greek Reporter as saying that ‘We have proved that the technical construction work of the Metro can be harmoniously combined and give impressive results simultaneously with the archaeological excavation’.  Many of the wooden and other objects uncovered in the find have been moved to the nearby Xylapothiki laboratory and exhibition space.

The unique Xylapothiki exhibition area is modelled on an ancient Greek shed or workshop. According to the Greek Reporter , Peppas stated, ‘It is a unique example in Greece of an exhibition that works in parallel with an open maintenance workshop.’ From overhead lofts in the building, visitors can view the artifacts, and also see experts preserving and examining the ancient objects uncovered in the Piraeus port aqueduct and well discoveries. It is expected that the rare items found at the site will be permanently displayed here.

Top image: Archaeologists at work at one of the 8 digs at the Piraeus Port aqueduct discovery area.           Source: Athens-Macedonian News Agency

By Ed Whelan

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