Category Archives: GREECE

Bent Sword Found in 5th-Century Soldier’s Grave in Greece

Bent Sword Found in 5th-Century Soldier’s Grave in Greece

Live Science reports that Errikos Maniotis of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and his colleagues have uncovered seven graves, including a 1,600-year-old soldier’s arch-shaped grave, in an early Christian basilica discovered in 2010 ahead of subway construction in northern Greece.

Bent Sword Found in 5th-Century Soldier’s Grave in Greece
This iron sword was folded in a ritual “killing” before it was buried with a soldier about 1,600 years ago.

The soldier was buried with a shield, a spear, and a spatha, a type of long straight sword used from about A.D. 250 to 450, that had been bent. “Usually, these types of swords were used by the auxiliary cavalry forces of the Roman army,” Maniotis said.

The discovery of the folded sword was “astonishing,” because the soldier was buried in an early church, but the folded sword was part of a known pagan ritual, said project co-researcher Errikos Maniotis, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Byzantine Archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

Although this soldier, who was likely a mercenary, may have “embraced the Roman way of life and the Christian religion, he hadn’t abandoned his roots,” Maniotis told Live Science in an email.

The soldier’s burial is the latest finding at the site of a three-aisled paleochristian basilica dating from the fifth century.

The basilica was discovered in 2010, during an excavation ahead of the construction of a subway track, which prompted researchers to call the ancient building the Sintrivani basilica, after the Sintrivani metro station. The station is in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, which was an important metropolis during Roman times. 

The basilica was built over an even older place of worship; a fourth-century chapel, which might be the oldest Christian church in Thessaloniki, Maniotis said.

The individual’s burial in the ancient basilica.

In the seventh century, the church was damaged and only poorly renovated before it was eventually abandoned in the eighth or ninth century, Maniotis said.

During recent excavations, archaeologists found seven graves that had been sealed inside. Some of the graves contained two deceased individuals but didn’t have any artefacts. However, an arch-shaped grave contained an individual buried with weapons, including a bent spatha — a type of long, straight sword from the late Roman period (A.D. 250-450).

“Usually, these types of swords were used by the auxiliary cavalry forces of the Roman army,” Maniotis said. “Thus, we may say that the deceased, taking also into consideration the importance of the burial location, was a high-ranking officer of the Roman army.”

The individual was buried with the folded sword, a shield-boss and a spearhead.

The archaeologists still have to study the individual. “We don’t know anything about his profile: age of death, cause of death, possible wounds that he might have from the wars he fought, etc.,” Maniotis said. However, they were intrigued by his folded sword and other weapons, which included a shield-boss (the circular center of a shield) and spearhead. 

So far, the folded sword is the most revealing feature in the grave. “Such findings are extremely rare in an urban landscape,” Maniotis said. “Folded swords are usually excavated in sites in Northern Europe,” including in places used by the Celts, he said. This custom was also observed in ancient Greece and much later by the Vikings, but “it seems that Romans didn’t practice it, let alone when the new religion, Christianity, dominated, due to the fact that this ritual [was] considered to be pagan,” Maniotis said.

The bent sword is a clue that the soldier was a “Romanized Goth or from any other Germanic tribe who served as a mercenary (foederatus) in the imperial Roman forces,” Maniotis wrote in the email.

The Latin word “foederatus” comes from “foedus,” a term describing a “treaty of mutual assistance between Rome and another nation,” Maniotis noted. “This treaty allowed the Germanic tribes to serve in the Roman Army as mercenaries, providing them with money, land and titles. [But] sometimes these foederati turned against the Romans.”

The archaeological team recently found ancient coins at the site, so they plan to use these, as well as the style of the sword’s pommel, or the knob on the handle, to figure out when this soldier lived, Maniotis noted.

“The soldier’s armament [weapons] will shed light to the impact that the presence of the community of foreign mercenaries had in the city of Thessaloniki, the second greatest city, since the fall of Rome and after Constantinople, in the Eastern Roman Empire.”

Mosaic and cemetery

The discovery of the ancient basilica has revealed other ancient artefacts. Archaeologists led by Melina Paisidou, an associate professor of archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, have also excavated the building’s beautiful mosaic floor, Maniotis said.

The mosaic shows a vine with birds on its stalks, including the mythical phoenix with a halo that has 13 rays at its center. Only seven other depicted birds have survived, but the archaeological team posits that there were originally 12 birds, and that the mosaic is likely an allegorical representation of Christ and the 12 apostles, Maniotis said.

In addition, a discovery at the site in 2010 revealed about 3,000 ancient burials in Thessaloniki eastern cemetery, a burial ground that was used from the Hellenistic period (about 300-30 B.C.) until just before late antiquity (A.D. 600-700), according to Ancient Origins.

Shackled Skeletons Unearthed in Greece Could Be Remains of Slaughtered Rebels

Shackled Skeletons Unearthed in Greece Could Be Remains of Slaughtered Rebels

In the Faliron Delta district of southern Athens, two mass graves containing 80 ancient bodies have been found. Young men’s bodies from the 7th century BC were placed side by side, their arms shackled over their heads.

Shackled Skeletons Unearthed in Greece Could Be Remains of Slaughtered Rebels
Skeletal remains, with iron shackles on their wrists, are laid in a row at the ancient Falyron Delta cemetery in Athens, Greece

One skeleton had an arrow stuck in its shoulder, which suggested the young men may have been murdered, prisoners. Researchers believe they may have been captured for being followers of ancient would-be tyrant Cylon of Athens.

The findings, presented by chief archaeologist Stella Chrysoulaki, were made when builders were preparing the ground for the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC).

Given ‘the high importance of these discoveries,’ the council is launching further investigations, the culture ministry said.

Two small vases discovered amongst the skeletons have allowed archaeologists to date the graves from between 650-625 BC, a period of great political turmoil in the region,’ the ministry said.

The skeletons were found lined up, some on their backs and others on their stomachs. A total of 36 had their hands bound with iron. One of the men, the last one to be found in March, also had his legs tied with rope.

It remains a mystery as to why the men had their arms tied above their heads rather than behind their backs. Archaeologists found the teeth of the men to be in good condition, indicating they were young and healthy.

This boosts the theory that they could have been followers of Cylon, a nobleman whose failed coup in the 7th century BC is detailed in the accounts of ancient historians Herodotus and Thucydides.

Some of the shackled skeletons found at Phalaeron outside Athens
Two small vases (one pictured in this image) were discovered among the skeletons. They have allowed archaeologists to date the graves from between 650-625 BC, ‘a period of great political turmoil in the region,’ the ministry said.

Cylon, a former Olympic champion, sought to rule Athens as a tyrant.

But Athenians opposed the coup attempt and he and his supporters were forced to seek refuge in the Acropolis, the citadel that is today the Greek capital’s biggest tourist attraction.

The conspirators eventually surrendered after winning guarantees that their lives would be spared.

But Megacles, of the powerful Alcmaeonid clan, had the men massacred – an act condemned as sacrilegious by the city authorities.

Historians say this dramatic chapter in the story of ancient Athens showed the aristocracy’s resistance to the political transformation that would eventually herald Athenian democracy 2,500 years ago.

The skeletons were found in an ancient necropolis at around two and a half meters from the surface.

So far, only half of the Faliron Delta has been excavated so far. 

The site served as a port for Athens in the classical age.

Archaeologists said the excavation will continue, and the culture ministry is set to make a decision on whether to build a museum on the site.

Shackled Skeletons Unearthed in Greece Could Be Remains of Slaughtered Rebels

Shackled Skeletons Unearthed in Greece Could Be Remains of Slaughtered Rebels

Phaleron is a small town just four miles south of Athens that most visitors are unaware of. In addition to being a port of Athens in classical times, Phaleron has one of the largest cemeteries ever excavated in Greece, with over 1,500 skeletons. Phaleron, which dates from the 8th to 5th centuries BC, is critical for our understanding of the growth of the Greek city-state. And, in particular, for comprehending the associated brutality and subjugation.

Shackled Skeletons Unearthed in Greece Could Be Remains of Slaughtered Rebels
Mass burial of 12 individuals with their hands tied at their backs, from 8th-5th BC Phaleron, Greece

People were forced face-down into a pit with their hands shackled behind their backs in two mass burials at Phaleron. An international team of archaeologists is cleaning, documenting, and examining the Phaleron skeletons to learn more about these deviant burials and their relationship to the Greek state formation.

Excavation at the site began nearly a century ago, with a mass grave – often referred to as containing the “captives of Phaleron” because of the presence of metal handcuffs – excavated by the Greek Archaeological Service.

But large-scale excavation of almost an acre of Phaleron was carried out between 2012-2016 by the Department of Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, led by archaeologist Stella Chrysoulaki.

The modern excavation garnered massive publicity in Greece because of its scale and funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, but little news has trickled out in the English-language media.

An archaeological excavation was careful and detailed, with conservators on-site and with several skeletons removed in blocks for future micro-excavation. Digitization of the archaeological field records, photographs, and maps is done, but this is just the beginning for the skeletons themselves, whose preservation and analysis has to be done by specialists in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology.

Example of a prone burial from 8th-5th BC Phaleron. The prone position and limb disorder indicate some sort of deviant burial

There is significant variation in how people were buried at Phaleron. Most were interred in simple pit graves, but nearly one-third are infants and children in large jars, about 5% are cremations complete with funeral pyres, and there are a few stone-lined cist graves. One individual was even buried in a wooden boat used as a coffin – the fact that this lasted nearly three millennia shows that preservation at the site is remarkably good.

The shackled skeletons, easily the most compelling remains from Phaleron, have received researchers’ attention for decades, as they are among the very few instances of shackled deaths in the ancient world and could indicate punishment, slavery, or a death sentence. But the study of these “captives” has to take place within the context of the entire cemetery, and analyzing 1,500 skeletons is a massive task.

Taking the lead on the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project are bioarchaeologist Jane Buikstra, founding director of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research at Arizona State University, and geoarchaeologist Panagiotis Karkanas, director of the Wiener Laboratory at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Their immediate goal for the skeletons showcases the crucial link between the excavation of human skeletons and analysis: curation.

Burial in an 8th-5th century BC cemetery at Phaleron, Greece. The burial preserves metal shackles at the wrists, a deviant form of burial

Before the 1,500 skeletons can be made available for researchers to study, each set of remains needs to be cleaned, the bones inventoried, their age-at-death and sex estimated, and basic pathologies recorded. Setting up a database of this magnitude takes time and effort, as does correlating the skeletons with their archaeological context, and it takes significant funding too. That’s where the bottleneck is at the moment. Buikstra has a grant for approximately half the funds for curation of the skeletons but needs a match for the project to move forward.

In the long-term, though, Buikstra is sure that the Phaleron skeletons will give us a window into a critical time in ancient Greek history, just before the rise of the city-state. The research team has four main objectives following the conservation of the skeletons:

Overview of part of the Phaleron cemetery, showing the diversity of burial practices in the 8th-5th c BC

1) To thoroughly investigate the shackled and other deviant burials, including the individuals tossed into mass graves. Are they a casualty of the political upheaval that preceded the rise of Athenian democracy?

2) To study the burials of children, made primarily in pots, to learn more about infancy and childhood in the ancient world. Since children don’t often make it into the historical record, studying their skeletons helps reveal their brief lives.

3) To learn more about people’s diet at this ancient port city, and to find out if its inhabitants succumbed to diseases easily passed through sailors and other travellers from distant lands.

4) To go beyond the analysis of elite individuals buried with elaborate grave goods by focusing on the more simple burials, to shed light on all social classes of ancient Athens.

Buikstra and her team plan to make the project accessible through a website sponsored by the Ephoreia of Piraeus, Western Attica, and the Islands, Ministry of Culture, Greece, and the ASCSA. This website will also include summary blog posts, photos, and preliminary results. Public talks around the U.S. are planned, as well as Wiener Laboratory open-house, school, and museum events in Athens.

Making the database available to researchers around the world is also part of Buikstra’s plan. This will allow bioarchaeologists to use cutting-edge analytical methods, such as ancient DNA and isotope chemistry, in order to tell the important stories of the people of ancient Phaleron.

5,000 Years old Pavlopetri is the oldest submerged city in the world

5,000 Years old Pavlopetri is the oldest submerged city in the world

If you ask Greeks what do they know about Pavlopetri, they will probably look at you in amazement. Pavlopetri is the oldest submerged city in the world and only in 2011 became known to the world when BBC visited this place and using specialist laser scanning techniques on location accurately recreated three-dimensional models of artefacts!

In 1904 the geologist Fokion Negri reported an ancient city in the seabed between the island Elafonisos and beach Punta in southern Laconia.

Later, in 1967, oceanographer Dr Nicholas Flemming, University of Southampton, visited the underwater city and found the existence of an ancient submerged city in a depth of 3 – 4 meters!

In 1968 Dr Nicholas Flemming returned to Pavlopetri with a group of young archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and in collaboration with professor Angelos Delivorrias, they mapped and dated the sunken city.

They discovered a rare prehistoric residential town with many buildings, streets and even squares! Based on the findings, the team of the University of Cambridge announced that the Pavlopetri firstly inhabited in 2800 BC, while the buildings and streets dating from the Mycenaean period (1680-1180 BC)!!!

In 2007 Dr Jon Henderson and Dr Chryssanthi Frenchman from the University of Nottingham visited Pavlopetri and in collaboration with the Director of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities Ilias Spondilis undertook a research program for further archaeological investigations Pavlopetri.

The project had a duration of five years (2009-2013), and it aimed to shed light on research questions concerning the dating and character of the submerged village in Elaphonisos and the role of the town in the control of the Laconian Gulf.

So, if you are interested in underwater archaeology, this is the ideal place, as the architectural remains of this sunken city are visible at a depth of about three meters!

5,000 Years old Pavlopetri is the oldest submerged city in the world

Pavlopetri is in Lakonia, in Peloponnese, which is 4 hours drive from Athens or 2.5 hours from Kalamata International Airport.

Pavlopetri is a fantastic finding, and there is a beautiful documentary by BBC, which will reveal you a spectacular view of an unknown world and civilisation 5000 years ago!

Over 3000-year-old ancient bronze figurine of bull uncovered in southern Greece

Over 3000-year-old ancient bronze figurine of bull uncovered in southern Greece

Following heavy rain near the ancient site of Olympia, a bronze figurine of a bull estimated to be at least 2,500 years old was discovered in Greece. Burn marks on the statuette suggest it may have been one of the thousands of offerings to the Greek god Zeus.

Over 3000-year-old ancient bronze figurine of bull uncovered in southern Greece
The small bull statuette is believed to have been offered to the god Zeus during a sacrifice

The discovery of the small, intact item was made by archaeologists near a temple, Greece’s culture ministry said. An archaeologist spotted one of the bull’s horns sticking out of the mud after a downpour, it added.

The item was immediately transferred to a laboratory for examination. Initial testing has indicated that the bull idol, which was found last month, dates from the Geometric period – about 1050BC to 700BC – of Greek art, the culture ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Animals such as bulls are believed to have been worshipped because of their importance at the time

Animals such as bulls and horses are believed to have been worshipped over that period because of their importance for human survival.

Like other animal and human figurines, the bull discovered near the temple of Zeus was likely to have been offered by believers during a sacrifice, which would explain the burn marks and “sediments removed during its purification”, the ministry added.

The site of Olympia in Greece is the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games.

Ottoman-Era Bath and Byzantine Doorway Found in Greece

Ottoman-Era Bath and Byzantine Doorway Found in Greece

According to a statement released by Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports, restoration work and surveys at the site of the medieval castle of Mytilene, which is located on the island of Lesbos, revealed a sixteenth-century A.D.

A new gate to an ancient city was recently unearthed at Mytilene’s iconic castle on the Greek island of Lesvos.

The findings, which date from the 6th to 7th centuries AD, shed new light on life on the island of Lesvos, especially regarding the defence of the island in those times.

Pavlos Triantaphyllides, the head of the Ephorate, notes that the findings can be considered of special importance for the defence architecture of the Castle of Mytilene during early Byzantine history and of Mytilene as a whole.

Triantaphyllides probably says that it has now been established that the pre-Byzantine gate of the Castle is connected to the hitherto-unknown Byzantine settlement of Melanoudi, which was prominent in the area until its conquest by the Ottomans.

Entering the castle from Epano Skala, an Ottoman bath from the 16th century was found, which experts say is in “very good condition.” The bath was owned by Haireddin Pasha Barbarossa, who was originally from Mytilene.

The earliest bath ever found on Lesvos

This is the earliest bath that has ever been found on the island of Lesvos and it features vaulted areas of hot, lukewarm and cold baths with the necessary fire pits underneath, as shown by the short columns which supported the floor of the baths.

The area underneath recently-unearthed baths at Mytilene castle.

According to the Ephorate, it will be covered with a canopy and will eventually be open to the public at some point in the future. The archaeologists state that the most important discovery, however, lies beneath the foundations of the baths. The early Byzantine gate of the 7th century AD was located there, leading to Melanoudi, a well-known Byzantine town that we did not know the precise location of until today.

Gate leading to a new city underneath the castle

This is simply because the oldest medieval remains uncovered thus far until now had been those dating back to the 14th century. “While it had been considered that the lower part of the castle was wallless, the new excavation findings come to show us the walls of the lower castle,” explains Triantaphyllides.

“This gate is made of amazing marble from an ancient material, being recycled from previous use. It has a total height of 3.20 meters (10.5 feet), and a width of 2.05 meters (6.7 feet) and a depth of two meters (6.5 feet).

“A total of nine slabs of local grey-white marble were used for its construction, while cavities in the lintel indicate the existence of a wooden door, adapted with swivels,” the archaeologist notes.

“Its pilasters are decorated with ribbons and a convex wave, while the lintel has a convex cornice,” adds the Curator of Antiquities.

What was the town of Melanoudi?

According to Triantaphyllides, Melanoudi must have had around 1,000 inhabitants in its heyday. He states the medieval inhabitants of the city of Mytilene “had to contact from the northern port through the port that still exists today. If you remember, some remains of the Hellenistic wall are still preserved in the sea today, which seem to have been used during the Middle Ages.

“On the other side of the walls there were baths, there were houses,” he says.

“Certainly there are some Christian temples that we have not identified at the moment,” the archaeologist says. “For the early phase of the city in the 6th and 7th century the excavation research which we hope to continue in the next period of time with other funds will give us a lot of information.

“We are talking about the 7th-century Byzantine settlement that existed inside the castle and was by the sea.”

According to these recent findings, the Byzantine city was located down four meters from the current surface of the ground where people walk today inside the castle.

“It is very impressive as a find and unfortunately in Greece we do not know many similar examples with the early Byzantine fortifications because it is an extremely difficult period, this is the period of transition from paganism to Christianity where archaeological evidence is usually scarce,” notes Triantaphyllides.

Restoration ongoing in the area; bicycle trail proposed

In the lower castle area, a new bicycle path will be created as part of the co-financed European program of Sustainable Urban Regeneration. Under the auspices of the NSRF 2014-2020 of the North Aegean Region, a new traffic pattern will also be created for the area.

In a short time, the bicycle road that will go to the project will be completed by the municipality. Two Ottoman-era homes are already being restored; one of these will serve as a centre of information and documentation for the entire history of the island of Lesvos. The second house offer space for educational programs for children, who will be also able to explore the ancient and medieval-era ruins in special tours led by archaeologists.

“We will explain to the children how they were built, how the houses, the temples, the walls were built. And the children will be given a complete picture of what this medieval castle of Mytilene was like,” says Triantaphyllides.

20-million-year-old fossilised tree discovered by scientists in Greece

20-million-year-old fossilised tree discovered by scientists in Greece

Two Greek scientists on the volcanic island of Lesbos claim they have uncovered a fossilized tree that is about 20 million years old. In the middle of road-work near an ancient forest on the eastern Mediterranean island, a particularly unusual discovery was found. The area was petrified millions of years ago.

In 1995, the site started to be dug up or excavated. Professor Nikos Zouros claimed that it is the first tree in the region to be discovered in such good condition, complete with branches and roots.  He is with the Museum of Natural History of the Petrified Forest of Lesbos.

After 20 million years, the tree’s roots and leaves were still intact. It was a rare discovery, according to Zouros, one he had never seen before.

20-million-year-old fossilised tree discovered by scientists in Greece
A fossilized tree is seen at the Petrified Forest National Park on the island of Lesbos, Greece.

“It is a unique find,” he said. “[It] is preserved in excellent condition. And from studying the fossilized wood we will be able to identify the type of plant it comes from.”

The 15,000-hectare petrified forest of Lesbos is a protected site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.

The forest is the result of a volcanic eruption 20 million years ago. Lava from the volcano covered the island’s ecosystem, which at that time was a subtropical forest.

The fossilized tree is about 19 meters long. It was preserved by heavy amounts of volcanic ash after it fell. A large number of fruit tree leaves also were found nearby.

The trees and animal bones found in the same general area add to the history and understanding of life that once existed there.

“During the excavations, the various forests that existed between 17 and 20 million years ago on Lesbos are being uncovered,” said Zouros. He and his team plan to rebuild the “ecosystem that existed during that period.”

For further study, he and his team transported the tree from the site using a special support system and metal structure.

A 2,400-year-old: World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Found at the Bottom of the Black Sea

A 2,400-year-old: World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Found at the Bottom of the Black Sea

At the bottom of the Black Sea, the oldest preserved shipwreck ever found has been discovered. After more than 2,400 years, the 75ft Greek trade vessel was discovered lying whole with its anchor, rudders and rowing benches. It was discovered in a well-known ‘shipwreck graveyard’ that has already revealed over 60 other vessels.

The team found what has now been confirmed as the “oldest intact shipwreck” in the world during the most recent excavation, a Greek trade vessel style previously only seen on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the “Siren Vase” in the British Museum.

The ship, found 1.3 miles under the surface, could shed new light on the ancient Greek tale of Odysseus tying himself to a mast to avoid being tempted by sirens. The vase shows Odysseus, the hero from Homer’s epic poem, tied to the mast of a similar ship as he resisted the Siren’s calls.

The Anglo-Bulgarian team believe the Black Sea wreck dates back to the Fourth Century BC, perhaps 100 years after the Siren Vase was painted

A remote-controlled submarine piloted by British scientists spotted the ship lying on its side about 50 miles off the coast of Bulgaria. The ship lies in over 1.3miles of water, deep in the Black Sea where the water is anoxic (oxygen-free) which can preserve organic material for thousands of years. A small piece of the vessel has been carbon dated and it is confirmed as coming from 400BC – making the ship the oldest intact shipwreck known to mankind.

The 75ft shipwreck was been found lying whole with its mast, rudders and rowing benches after more than 2,400 years.
The shipwreck was found nearly 7,000ft under the sea in ‘remarkable’ condition, with some suggesting it has similarities to a ship shown on an ancient vase that depicts Odysseus tying the mast of a similar ship as he resisted the Siren’s calls

Jon Adams, the project’s chief scientist, said the wreck was very well-preserved, with the rudder and tiller still in place.  A ship, surviving intact, from the Classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,’ he said

This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.’ Prior to this discovery, ancient ships had only been found in fragments with the oldest more than 3,000 years old.  The team from the Black Sea Maritime Archaeological Project said the find also revealed how far from the shore ancient Greek traders could travel.     

Adams told The Times the ship probably sank in a storm, with the crew unable to bail water in time to save it. The archaeologist believes it probably held 15 to 25 men at the time whose remains may be hidden in the surrounding sediment or eaten by bacteria. He said he plans to leave the ship on the seabed because raising it would be hugely expensive and require taking the pint joints apart.

The ship was both oar and sail-powered. 

It was chiefly used for trading but the professor believes it may have been involved in a little bit of raiding’ of coastal cities. It was probably based at one of the ancient Greek settlements on what is now the Bulgarian coast.

He said: ‘Ancient seafarers were not hugging the coast timidly going from port to port but going blue-water sailing.’

The find is one of 67 wrecks found in the area.

Previous finds were discovered dating back as far as 2,500 years, including galleys from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Scientists stumbled upon the graveyard while using underwater robots to survey the effects of climate change along the Bulgarian coast.  Because the Black Sea contains almost no light or oxygen, little life can survive, meaning the wrecks are in excellent condition.

Researchers say their discovery is ‘truly unrivalled’. 

Many of the ships have features that are only known from drawings or written description but never seen until now.  Carvings in the wood of some ships have remained intact for centuries, while the well-preserved rope was found aboard one 2,000-year-old Roman vessel. The project, known Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea MAP), involves an international team led by the University of Southampton’s Centre for Maritime Archaeology.

Ed Parker, CEO of Black Sea MAP, said: ‘Some of the ships we discovered had only been seen on murals and mosaics until this moment. There’s one medieval trading vessel where the towers on the bow and stern are pretty much still there. It’s as if you are looking at a ship in a movie, with ropes still on the deck and carvings in the wood.

‘When I saw that ship, the excitement really started to mount – what we have found is truly unrivalled.’ Most of the vessels found are around 1,300 years old, but the oldest dates back to the 4th Century BC. Many of the wrecks’ details and locations are being kept secret by the team to ensure they remain undisturbed. Black Sea water below 150 metres (490 ft) is anoxic, meaning the environment cannot support the organisms that typically feast on organic materials, such as wood and flesh.

As a result, there is an extraordinary opportunity for preservation, including shipwrecks and the cargoes they carried. Ships lie hundreds or thousands of metres deep with their masts still standing, rudders in place, cargoes of amphorae and ship’s fittings lying on the deck. Many of the ships show structural features, fittings and equipment that are only known from drawings or written description but never seen until now.

Project leader Professor Jon Adams, of the University of Southampton, said: ‘This assemblage must comprise one of the finest underwater museums of ships and seafaring in the world.’

The expedition has been scouring the waters 1,800 metres (5,900ft) below the surface of the Black Sea since 2015 using an off-shore vessel equipped with some of the most advanced underwater equipment in the world. The vessel is on an expedition mapping submerged ancient landscapes which were inundated with water following the last Ice Age. The researchers had discovered over 40 wrecks across two previous expeditions, but during their latest trip, which spanned several weeks and returned this month, they uncovered more than 20 new sites.

Returning to the Port of Burgas in Bulgaria, Professor Jon Adams said: ‘Black Sea MAP now draws towards the end of its third season, acquiring more than 1300km [800 miles] of the survey so far, recovering another 100m (330 ft) of sediment core samples and discovering over 20 new wreck sites, some dating to the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods.’  

The researchers are using two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to survey the sea bed. One is optimised for high-resolution 3D photography, while the other, called Surveyor Interceptor, ‘flies’ at four times the speed of conventional ROVs. The Interceptor carries an entire suite of geophysical instrumentation, as well as lights, high definition cameras and a laser scanner.  Since the project started, Surveyor Interceptor has set new records for depth at 5,900ft (1,800 metres) and sustained speed of over six knots (7mph), and has covered 1,250 kilometres (776 miles). Among the wrecks are shipped from the Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, which provide new information on the communities on the Black Sea coast.

Professor Jon Adams of The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology project holding a 3D model of a Greek shipwreck from 400BC, officially the World’s oldest intact shipwreck, at the Wellcome Collection, London

Many of the colonial and commercial activities of ancient Greece and Rome, and of the Byzantine Empire, centred on the Black Sea.  After 1453, when the Ottoman Turks occupied Constantinople – and changed its name to Istanbul – the Black Sea was virtually closed to foreign commerce.  Nearly 400 years later, in 1856, the Treaty of Paris re-opened the sea to the commerce of all nations. The scientists were followed by Bafta-winning filmmakers for much of the three-year project and a documentary is expected in the coming years. Producer Andy Byatt, who worked on the David Attenborough BBC series ‘Blue Planet’, said: ‘I think we have all been blown away by the remarkable finds that Professor Adams and his team have made.

‘The quality of the footage revealing this hidden world is absolutely unique.’