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Large pillar anchor and amphora found on sea bottom off Levitha island in shipwreck. Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.

World’s Largest Stone Pillar Anchor From Archaic Period Found In Aegean Shipwreck

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Five major shipwrecks dating to more than 2,000 years old have been found to contain a subaquatic archaeological treasure hoard at the bottom of the Aegean Sea near Greece.

The Research Project Specializing in Shipwrecks

The Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities is a department within the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports , and this news of discovery rises from a three-year research project taking place from 2019-2021. The team’s goals are to first identify and then document ancient shipwrecks in the coastal zone eastern Aegean Sea, and these new results came under the directorship of maritime archaeologist Dr. Georgios Koutsouflakis, from June 15 to 29, 2019.

Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus and he twice mentioned the ancient Greek island of Lebinthus or Lebinthos in his works  Ars Amatoria  and the  Metamorphoses. He said in sagas that Daedalus and Icarus escaped Crete by “ flying over Lebinthus” and this legendary island is situated in the east of the Aegean Sea and known today as ‘Levitha’, between the islands of Amorgos and Leros in the municipality Leros, on the 37th parallel.

The Discovery of the Shipwrecks

The newly discovered shipwrecks were once used to transport consumer products such as wines and one ship was found to have a huge anchor and held lots of amphorae (containers). A report in the Greek City Times says “The granite anchor pole, which was found 148 feet (45 meters) down, dates back to the 6th century BC and weighs 882 pounds (400 kilograms), it is believed to have been used on a ‘colossal-sized ship’ and is the largest stone pillar from the Archaic period ever found in the Aegean”.

Drivers recovering artifacts from the ancient shipwreck. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Drivers recovering artifacts from the ancient shipwreck. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

The archaeologists found the amphorae had originated in Knidos, Kos, and Rhodes, as well as Phoenicia and Carthage, and it dates to the 3rd century BC when the territory was under rulership of the Ptolemaic dynasty , which came to an end with the deaths of Cleopatra and her son.

Ancient Containers of Knowledge

An article in Greek Reporter says that besides the five wrecks found off the island of Levitha “there were other shipwrecks as well” and one ship, the Ephorate, had a cargo of amphorae from Knidos in the North Aegean dating back to the early Christian period. Three further shipwrecks had carried cargos of Kos amphorae, from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and 2nd century AD. The discovery of anchors is somewhat expected, but what were the thousands of amphora containers used for?

Diver recording the discovery of ancient amphora lying atop the seabed of the Aegean Sea. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Diver recording the discovery of ancient amphora lying atop the seabed of the Aegean Sea. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Commercial amphoras were large ceramic vessels used often between 1500 BC and AD 500 and although their form is much different from modern packaging designed to fit shelves, they were ergonomically as sound, in that the aspect that their pointed bases facilitated handling, storage, and transport. Peter Campbell, co-director of the project from the US-based RPM Nautical Foundation told Live Science in 2015, “The main component of these shipwrecks, wood, isn't likely to survive centuries at the bottom of the sea, unless it is buried in mud, without oxygen to fuel decomposition” and this is why divers document many messy piles of lost cargo, “mostly transport vessels like amphoras”.

The 2015 Live Science article reported on the incredible discovery of “22 shipwrecks, which comprised piles of cargo from the doomed vessels” discovered around the Greek archipelago of Fourni. This expedition was also led by George  Koutsouflakis who had received a call from Manos Mitikas, a local fisherman who had spent years working in the waters around Fourni.

Intact ancient amphora brought to the surface as part of the 2019 Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities study. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Intact ancient amphora brought to the surface as part of the 2019 Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities study. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Mitikas said he had seen piles of ancient pottery collecting algae on the seafloor. And on archaeologists very first dive, in shallow water, they found “22 late Roman-period wrecks , some of them being 2,500 years old containing tons of amphora”.

Amphorae around in this summer’s archaeological research for shipwrecks. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Amphorae around in this summer’s archaeological research for shipwrecks. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Top image: Large pillar anchor and amphora found on sea bottom off Levitha island in shipwreck. Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.

By Ashley Cowie

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