Shipping Blackspot: Largest Find of Shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Intensifies
In Greece, marine archaeologists have made an unprecedented discovery of shipwrecks in one area of seabed - now numbering 58. It is the largest such find in the history of the Mediterranean. The wrecks that lie off a small archipelago in the Aegean Sea include vessels from Ancient Greece right up to modern times. Experts suspect that those wrecks from ancient times contain many precious artifacts. It is expected that the find could become one of the most important marine archaeological finds of the twentieth century.
Trade Route Revealed
The discovery of shipwrecks is a common occurrence but there has been nothing on the scale of this discovery. The wrecks were found around the small archipelago of Fournoi. This is now a remote group of islands, but in the past they were located on major trade routes and was a haven for ships on long journeys. Fournoi is made up of 20 islets and reefs near the better-known tourist island of Samos. Some 1500 people live on the main island and they are mainly fishermen.
Diver, director and cinematographer Anastasis Agathos, 47, films an anchor at a shipwreck site on the island of Fournoi, Greece, September 18, 2018. Picture taken September 18, 2018. Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities
Cause of the Shipping Black Spot
The majority of the ships may have been lost to inclement weather. Fournoi has numerous rocky reefs and sandbanks and even the most experienced mariners could have problems navigating around the islands. It appears that many of the ships were headed to the island to rest for the night and instead they sank to the bottom of the Aegean Sea. Experts believe that the waters in the area are very susceptible to sudden wind storms, which make them particularly treacherous. Alternatively, many ships may have succumbed to pirates, as Fournoi was once notorious for being a haven for pirates.
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Diver and technical director Markos Garras, 50, inspects an amphora at a shipwreck site on the island of Fournoi, Greece, September 19, 2018. Picture taken September 19, 2018. Image: Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities
The Fournoi Survey Project
The treasure trove of vessels was found by a group of international marine archaeologists who have been diving in and around the Aegean archipelago. The archaeologists are part of the Fournoi Survey Project, which is working with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. The survey began in 2015 and in that year alone they identified some 22 sunken ships and since then they have discovered another 36. The Archaeology News Network Blog reports that the co-director of the survey has stated ‘We knew that we had stumbled upon something that was going to change the history books.” The team was able to make so many discoveries because of information from sponge fishermen who are very familiar with the local water.
The international team of divers has not only identified and mapped the wrecks they have begun to excavate them. The Greek City Times reports that ‘The team has raised more than 300 antiquities from the shipwrecks. These include many amphorae or storage jars, which once held wine, fish sauce, honey, and olive oil, which are allowing experts to have a better understanding of the cargoes of vessels in the ancient and the medieval Mediterranean. It is believed that some 90% of the vessels were carrying amphorae. According to Reuters the team was ‘excited by amphorae, they found originating from the Black Sea and North Africa’ which are very rarely found.
Chief conservator of the Fournoi Survey Project Angelos Tsompanidis, 42, and student of the Department of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art Helen Margarita Bardas, 25, carry an amphora from a shipwreck site on the island of Fournoi, Greece, September 19, 2018. Picture taken September 19, 2018. Image: Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities
The wrecks usually rest between 15 feet (40 meters) and 20 feet (60 meters) and have not been touched by looters. They are all typically in good condition. This has prompted some of the team to call for the establishment of an underwater museum for students and amateur divers. It is also hoped that many of the finds will be stored in a specially built museum on the main island of Fournoi and this will greatly help the islands tourist industry.
The historical importance of the find
The importance of the find cannot be overstated. The sheer number of vessels means that it is possible by studying them to understand the history of trade routes in the area over hundreds of years. The shipwrecks can help experts to have an unprecedented insight into the development and nature of trade in the ancient world and in the Middle Ages. From the recovered artifacts they can reconstruct the nature of trade between the Black Sea, Southern Europe, and North Africa. It is hoped that more artifacts can be recovered and that more wrecks and precious objects will be uncovered in the future.
Top image: Amphorae left on the seabed of one of the Mediterranean shipwreck sites. Source: Vassilis Mentogiannis/Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities
By Ed Whelan