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Researchers logging an anchor at one of the ten shipwreck sites found off Kasos. Source: Greek Ministry of Culture

Ten Shipwrecks Spanning 5,000 Years of History Spotted off Kasos Island

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Underwater archaeologists exploring the sea bottom off the beaches of Greece’s Kasos Island discovered something not entirely unexpected, but still quite surprising. Over the course of four years of exploration, they spotted and identified ruins and artifacts from approximately 10 different shipwrecks, with one dating back as far as 3,000 BC.

While they may have been looking for the remains of lost ships, the archaeologists never expected to discover such an impressive bounty of maritime wreckage and beautifully preserved objects. These finds will be invaluable to scientists and academics seeking to learn more about the history of commercial shipping in the southern Aegean and Mediterranean seas in ancient times, and among other things they reveal the true nature of the dangers associated with sea travel in the region throughout history.

The Kasos Maritime Archaeological Project and its Amazing Results

The explorations that produced this remarkable result were launched under the auspices of the Kasos Maritime Archaeological Project, which began in 2019 and concluded in October 2023. The Greek Ministry of Culture and the country’s National Hellenic Research Foundation jointly sponsored this ambitious initiative, which was specifically designed to detect ancient and/or modern shipwrecks and identify their origin and cargoes.

During the final undersea survey that took place last autumn, more than 20,000 underwater photographs of the accumulated wreckage were taken, which are now being studied intently to create a final inventory of the Kasos Project’s discoveries.

Because the ships were found grounded in fairly shallow waters, at depths ranging from 65 to 150 feet (20 to 47 meters), it was possible for human divers to investigate and photograph the sites of the shipwreck directly, eliminating the need to deploy remote-controlled robot explorers to carry out such tasks. The Kasos Project researchers did make use of appropriate modern technology, however, deploying a specially engineered sonar machine to scan the reefs around Kasos for signs of wrecked debris and artifacts (and also to make a detailed map of a previously unexamined region).

The chronological range of the newly discovered shipwrecks is extraordinary. The Ministry of Culture recently released photographs of the ruins and artifacts, while revealing that they dated back to Greece’s prehistory (3,000 BC), Classical Period (460 BC), Hellenistic Period (100 BC to 100 AD), and medieval and Ottoman periods (the latter ended in 1822). The doomed ships were built in and launched from Greece, Italy, Spain, Africa and western Asia, and the cargoes they carried were filled with valuable and highly coveted items.

Researchers taking measurements at one of the wreck sites. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

Researchers taking measurements at one of the wreck sites. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

In addition to the wrecks from these notable historical timeframes, the archaeologists also identified the remains of a sunken ship that would have been sailing the waters around Kasos during the World War II era. This was a wooden and metal vessel that measured between 80 and 100 feet (25 and 30 meters) long, and as of yet its exact identity has not been established.

Researchers will likely spend years examining the artifacts that have been recovered, and the photographs of everything that has been left in place to ensure its continued preservation. They hope to gain valuable insights into ancient maritime trade routes and the nature of the commercial exchanges that took place during various historical eras.

A Plethora of Artifacts Through the Ages

While much work is left to be done, the participants in the Kasos Maritime Archaeological Project have already identified many of the artifacts they’ve seen or recovered. Among the more interesting discoveries are several 1,800-1,900-year-old Spanish amphora, which are tall jugs with thin necks used to transport liquids across long distances. The Kasos Project archaeologists have also listed different types of ancient drinking vessels, Roman-era pottery of African origin, and a heavy stone anchor dating to the distant Archaic Period on their growing inventory of fascinating finds.

The researchers logged 1000s of finds over the 4 years of the project. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

The researchers logged 1000s of finds over the 4 years of the project. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

A Small Island at a Maritime Crossroads

Kasos Island is located about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of the Greek mainland, on the watery border where the southern Aegean Sea merges with the Mediterranean. It currently has a population of just over 1,000, but was inhabited by both Minoans from Crete and Mycenaean peoples in ancient times. Sitting at a midpoint between Greece and the lands of the Middle East and North Africa, Kasos has been a crossing point for ships moving back and forth between these two areas for thousands of years, and also for ships traveling from farther east headed for Mesopotamia and the Anatolian Peninsula.

Because of its geographical proximity to so many active shipping lanes, underwater archaeologists knew it would be fertile ground for a search for shipwrecks.

Researchers identified ten shipwrecks from as far back as 3,000 BC up to the modern era. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

Researchers identified ten shipwrecks from as far back as 3,000 BC up to the modern era. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

The Kasos Maritime Archaeological Project that carried out this quest was truly an interdisciplinary affair. It included historians, underwater archaeologists, surveyors, conservators, architects, marine biologists, geologists, graduate students and PhD candidates, and researchers in various specialties from all around the world.

Determined to set a template for future underwater exploration projects, project team members documented everything they saw through digital photography and video, while transporting artifact samples to the surface for hands-on investigation. They took great care to ensure the sites of the shipwrecks were not disturbed or damaged in any way, guaranteeing that future diving teams will have access to the wreck locations they discovered and mapped.

Now that the Kasos Maritime Archaeological Project is complete, researchers have a wealth of primary archaeological and geological data to study and evaluate. In June 2024, a new project will be launched to explore the underwater regions around the island of Karpathos, which is adjacent to Kasos and also a location where shipwrecks are likely to be found in abundance.

Shortly before the completion of the Kasos Project in October, the Greek Ministry of Culture released a short documentary film about the initiative and its discoveries called “Diving into the History of the Aegean.” This film is currently available on YouTube in both Greek and English versions.

Top image: Researchers logging an anchor at one of the ten shipwreck sites found off Kasos. Source: Greek Ministry of Culture

By Nathan Falde

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Nathan Falde graduated from American Public University in 2010 with a Bachelors Degree in History, and has a long-standing fascination with ancient history, historical mysteries, mythology, astronomy and esoteric topics of all types. He is a full-time freelance writer from... Read More

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