In the Depths for 2400 Years: Oldest Intact Shipwreck in the World Found Amongst Black Sea Wrecks
The Black Sea has been a busy place for underwater archaeology. Of the over 60 shipwrecks that have been identified in the region, there are three ancient shipwrecks which have caught the most attention this year– one Roman, one Greek, and one as the oldest known intact wreck in the world. All are merchant vessels which sunk to the depths roughly 2,000 years ago and none have given up all of their secrets.
The oldest intact wreck
The oldest complete shipwreck found so far in the world is a Greek merchant ship which met its fate on the Black Sea floor 2,400 years ago. The 23 meter (75ft.) wreck continues to have its rudder, rowing benches, and the contents of the hold, and was discovered more than 80 km (49.1 miles) off the Bulgarian city of Burgas. Apart from the intact state of the ship, the wreck has also created a buzz for the researchers on the Anglo-Bulgarian team because it closely resembles a trading vessel that has only previously been noted on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the Siren Vase that is in the collection of the British Museum. Helen Farr of the expedition told the BBC , “It's like another world. It's when the ROV [remote operated vehicle] drops down through the water column and you see this ship appear in the light at the bottom so perfectly preserved it feels like you step back in time.”
An international team of scientists led by experts from the University of Southampton have confirmed that a shipwreck lying intact has been officially radiocarbon dated back to 400BC. The ship has been located at a depth of around 2 kilometers (1.3 miles). At this depth there is little oxygen, a condition in which organic material can survive for thousands of years.
The find is truly remakable and groundbreaking. “A ship, surviving intact, from the Classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said University of Southampton Professor Jon Adams according to the University report, the Black Sea MAP’s principal investigator. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”
The Roman trading ship
UNTV reports the Roman ship was found not far from Sevastopol on the Crimean coast. Sonar scans revealed the ancient vessel and divers have taken the challenge to submerge 85 meters (278.87 ft.) below the waves to explore its remnants. UNTV says there was no way diver Pavel Lapshin would pass up the opportunity to work on an archaeological discovery.
Entrance to Balaklava Bay, Sevastopol. (Juri Kowski/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Lapshin and Roman Dunayev, another professional diver from Neptune Expedition, braved the waters to take video and photos for experts to analyze. Dunayev said “The ship has retained its shape due to the unusual conditions at great depths in the Black Sea, with almost no light or oxygen.”
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Historian Viktor Lebedinsky used the footage to declare the vessel a Roman trading ship from the 2nd or 3rd century AD. The most telling feature to reach that conclusion? The anchor. The images also helped decide the ship was a round vessel which was probably used to carry a large amount of cargo during more peaceful times.
The ancient shipwreck measures approximately 22 meters (72.18 ft.) long and six meters (19.69 ft.) wide and Dunayev said that if Lebedinsky’s analysis of the anchor proves true and it is a Roman shipwreck “it is a unique find as it is the first Roman vessel found in Crimea in such an excellent condition.”
If they can attain enough funding, Neptune Expedition Maritime Research would like to return to the site again next year to study what artifacts may be hidden inside the Roman shipwreck.
Another ancient Greek vessel
According to Greek Reporter , a joint expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of NAS of Ukraine and the Warsaw Institute of Archaeology have also made another interesting ancient shipwreck discovery in the Black Sea. Underwater archaeologists from that team recently found another 2,500-year-old Greek merchant vessel sunk off the coast of the Mykolaiv region, albeit in a less than complete state.
‘View of the city of Nikolaev.’ ( Public Domain )
Vyacheslav Gerasimov, head of the expedition, said “This ship is one of the oldest known in the Northern Black Sea. The ship belonged to the ancient Greek mariners V century BC – the period of colonization of the Northern black sea, when was the first settlement of Olbia.”
The team is waiting to finish their research before they will decide what to do with the ship. Conservation is a major concern, which is why they are leaving the ancient Greek shipwreck in its place for now.
Greek Reporter says there are no known images or video available of that shipwreck yet.
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Reconstruction of ancient Greek galleys. ( Public Domain )
But the Black Sea isn’t the only sea holding ancient shipwrecks. In July 2017, it was announced that the Aegean Sea holds dozens of shipwrecks dating back thousands of years. A joint Greek-American expedition declared 53 shipwrecks had been discovered just around Fourni, making it the largest known concentration of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.
There was a high volume of maritime traffic at Fourni and it was generally a safe place to drop anchor. However, unexpected southern storms sometimes took mariners off-guard, and if they failed to change the position of their anchor in time, they’d crash into the rocks and eventually be added to the number of ancient shipwrecks for underwater archaeologists to find in the area thousands of years later.
Top image: Imaging of ROV visiting the oldest intact shipwreck known. Source: Black Sea Map /EEF Expeditions