Category Archives: GREECE

The Theopetra Cave and the Oldest Human Construction in the World

The Theopetra Cave and the Oldest Human Construction in the World

The Theopetra Cave is an archaeological site situated in Meteora, in the central Greek region of Thessaly. As a result of the archaeological excavations that have taken place over the years, it has been revealed that the Theopetra cave was inhabited by human beings as early as 130,000 years ago.

In addition, evidence of human habitation in the Theopetra Cave can be dated without interruption from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period.

This is significant, as it allows archaeologists to have a better understanding of the prehistoric period in Greece.

Excavations at the Theopetra cave began in 1987 under the direction of N. Kyparissi-Apostolika.

The Theopetra Cave is located on the north-eastern slope of a limestone hill, some 100 m (330 feet above the valley), overlooking the remote village of Theopetra, and the river Lethaios, a tributary of the Pineios River, flows nearby.

According to geologists, the limestone hill was formed between 137 and 65 million years ago, corresponding to the Upper Cretaceous period. Based on archaeological evidence, human beings have only begun to occupy the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period, i.e. around 130,000 years ago.

The cave is located on the slopes of a limestone hill overlooking Theopetra village.

The cave itself has been described as roughly quadrilateral in shape with narrow niches on its edge and covers an area of around 500 sq meters (5380 sq ft). The Theopetra Cave has a wide aperture, which enables the light to penetrate easily into the interior of the cave.

The archaeological excavation of the Theopetra Cave began in 1987 and continued up until 2007. This project was directed by Dr Nina Kyparissi-Apostolika, who served as the head of the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleography when the excavations were being carried out.

It may be mentioned that when the archaeological work was first conducted, the Theopetra Cave was being used by local shepherds as a temporary shelter in which they would keep their flocks.

It may be added that the Theopetra Cave was the first cave in Thessaly to have been archaeologically excavated, and also the only one in Greece to have a continuous sequence of deposits from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period. This is significant, as it has allowed archaeologists to gain a better understanding of the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic way of life in mainland Greece.

Several interesting discoveries have been made through the archaeological study of the Theopetra Cave. One of these, for instance, pertains to the climate in the area when the cave was being occupied.

By conducting micro-morphological analysis on the sediment samples collected from each archaeological layer, archaeologists were able to determine that there had been hot and cold spells during the cave’s occupation. As a result of these changes in the climate, the cave’s population also fluctuated accordingly.

Another fascinating find from the Theopetra Cave is the remains of a stone wall that once partially closed off the entrance of the cave. These remains were discovered in 2010 and using a relatively new method of dating known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence, scientists were able to date this wall to around 23000 years old.

The age of this wall, which coincides with the last glacial age, has led researchers to suggest that the wall had been built by the inhabitants of the cave to protect them from the cold outside. It has been claimed that this is the oldest known man-made structure in Greece, and possibly even in the world.

A year before this incredible discovery was made, it was announced that a trial of at least three hominid footprints that were imprinted onto the cave’s soft earthen floor had been uncovered.

Based on the shape and size of the footprints, it has been speculated that they were made by several Neanderthal children, aged between two and four years old, who had lived in the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period.

In 2009, the Theopetra Cave was officially opened to the public, though it was closed temporarily a year later, as the remains of the stone wall were discovered that year. Although the archaeological site was later re-opened, it was closed once again in 2016 and remains so due to safety reasons, i.e. the risk of landslides occurring.

The ancient computer may have had its clock set to 23 December 178 BC

The ancient computer may have had its clock set to 23 December 178 BC

In 1901, divers looking to research different species of fish next to the tiny island of Antikythera in Grece discovered an old shipwreck from ancient times which contained vast treasures.

The ancient computer may have had its clock set to 23 December 178 BC
CT scan of Antikythera mechanismHoroscopic Astrology

Besides all the treasure, a piece of corroded metal was found which had a very odd shape. Those who discovered it in 1901 didn’t have the knowledge nor the technology to understand what exactly they were looking at.

It was only after 120 years that scientists understood what they were looking for after splitting the object apart.

A CT scan performed on the artefact in 2005 revealed that there were many small bronze gears inside that when turned, would give some sort of value.

The vast knowledge of astrology that is discovered in the writings of ancient Greek historians is crazy and this is something that scientists took into consideration when looking at this mechanism. 

Many years ago a replica was created by Michael Wright who took detailed X-rays of the discovered computer whilst working as a curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London.

The replica helped us understand that the computer discovered in 1901 was missing a lot of parts as only 82 fragments have survived, that is a third of all the pieces necessary for the mechanism to work. 

Experts say that it had been created to calculate the theories of ancient astrologists. The idea of having a machine able to calculate and validate scientific theories in ancient times is absolutely mind-blowing. Most of the information known about this ancient computer was discovered in 2021 and now even more incredible things are being unveiled. 

Aristeidis Voulgaris of the Thessaloniki Directorate of Culture and Tourism in Greece now supposes the calibration date was around 23 December 178 BC.

Experts call this “Day Zero” or the day that the computer was first used. This reinforces beliefs of the ancient computer being built sometime around 200BC. That date is interesting as Voulgaris mentions a lot of important events that occurred in Greece during 178BC. 

This artefact let alone proves how vastly superior ancient Greeks were. Their technical abilities were far beyond what we initially thought. Other researchers have made their own independent calculations based on the data shown.

The calculations look at how accurate the computer’s astronomical predictions are. The ingeniosity behind the mechanism still leaves everyone baffled. 

There are still many unknown things about this ancient computer, such as the inscriptions on the original part discovered in 1901 which makes experts scratch their heads. It is possible that the computer was used for something else from what the experts are currently predicting, although they can’t see to discover any new functions or mechanisms. 

Historians have also been checking the archives to find some information about this ancient computer. There are many predictions and speculations made along the way, but no concrete information had been found.

Researchers such as Freeth Tony and Jones Alexander who have spent many years analyzing the artefact are trying to decrypt the inscriptions mean, as these may be further instruction on how to properly utilize the ancient computer. 

‘Folded’ iron sword found in a Roman soldier’s grave was part of a pagan ritual

‘Folded’ iron sword found in a Roman soldier’s grave was part of a pagan ritual

An iron sword deliberately bent as part of a pagan ritual has been discovered in a Roman soldier’s grave in Greece, an archaeologist has revealed. The deformed or ‘folded’ sword was buried with an as yet unidentified soldier about 1,600 years ago in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.

His ‘arch-shaped’ grave was found in the underground remains of a basilica – a large public building and place of worship – dating from the fifth century AD. 

Along with the sword, the man was found buried with a spearhead and a ‘shield-boss’ – the circular centre of a shield.  

The sword (pictured) was deliberately bent in some form of pagan ritual, according to a Greek archaeologist

The ‘astonishing’ findings have been shared by Errikos Maniotis, an archaeologist at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, who believes the man likely served in the Roman imperial army. 

‘Usually, these types of swords were used by the auxiliary cavalry forces of the Roman army,’ Maniotis told Live Science

‘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.

It’s rare to find a ‘folded’ sword in an urban landscape, let alone in this part of Europe, Maniotis pointed out. 

Image of the underground remains of the ancient basilica – a large public building and place of worship

‘Folded swords are usually excavated in sites in Northern Europe,’ he said.

‘It seems that Romans didn’t practise it, let alone when the new religion, Christianity, dominated, due to the fact that this ritual [was] considered to be pagan.’

Archaeologists are yet to assess the remains of the soldier, described as likely a ‘Romanized Goth or from any other Germanic tribe who served as a mercenary’. 

‘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,’ Maniotis said.        

The soldier’s grave was one of seven found in the basilica, but not all of them were found to contain artefacts.

Along with the sword, the man was found buried with a spearhead and a ‘shield-boss’ – the circular centre of a shield.
Researchers have called it the ‘Sintrivani basilica’ after the upcoming station, which itself is named after an Ottoman fountain near the entrance (pictured)

According to Live Science, the basilica was discovered in 2010 during an excavation in preparation for the construction of a new subway line – the Sintrivani station, which is due to enter service in 2023.  

Researchers have called it the ‘Sintrivani basilica’ after the station, which itself is named after an Ottoman fountain near the entrance. 

Allegedly, the basilica was built over a fourth-century chapel, which might be the oldest Christian church in Thessaloniki, according to Maniotis.    

The church was damaged in the seventh century and abandoned in the eighth or ninth century, he added.  

Archaeologists have also excavated the basilica’s ‘beautiful’ mosaic floor, which ‘shows a vine with birds on its stalks’, including a mythical phoenix with a halo.  

The Trailblazing Archaeologist Uncovering the Untold Stories of Prehistoric Skeletons

The Trailblazing Archaeologist Uncovering the Untold Stories of Prehistoric Skeletons

Archaeology has always fascinated Efthymia Nikita. She was drawn to the mystery and joy of uncovering the buried past. In her first year of archaeology studies at the Aristotle University, in Thessaloniki, she happily joined a six-week dig at a Neolithic – late Stone Age – site in northern Greece. The multitude of findings included pottery, figurines, stone tools and animal bones. And, toward the end of the excavations, the remains of a human skeleton were found.

“Our team had experts for everything, who almost immediately could tell us exactly what we were looking at, no matter how fragmented it was,” Nikita recalls. “But we had no osteoarchaeologist on the team, so no one could say even the most basic thing about this skeleton: Was it a man or a woman? How old was he/she when they died? We knew nothing.” That, she says, is when she decided to become an osteoarchaeologist.

As its name suggests, osteoarchaeology is the study of skeletal remains, both human and animal, from excavations. It is a specialized field within the broader realm of bioarchaeology, whose purview “includes not only bones but also plants and any other organic material that may be preserved in the archaeological record,” Nikita explains.

Today, at just 38, Nikita is at the pinnacle of her profession, author of a textbook on osteoarchaeology that is considered the last word on the subject, and the developer of methods to analyze ancient bones. Despite her young age, she has been awarded prizes and honours and has received numerous research grants. The latest award bestowed on her is the 2022 Dan David Prize, the world’s largest prize given to scholars in history-related disciplines, which gives $300,000 each to nine different laureates, with another $300,000 going for scholarships for young researchers. The award ceremony will take place in May at Tel Aviv University. (Prior to 2021, the prize, which is granted under the auspices of the university, was given across a wider range of fields)

Our conversations – conducted via both Zoom and email – take place both from her office at the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia, where Nikita is an assistant professor in bioarchaeology and from her home nearby. She moved to Cyprus in 2017 from her native Greece when the institute, a research body specializing in science and technology, offered her a research and teaching position. She was joined by her husband, with whom she raises their 4-year-old son.

Osteoarchaeology is an offshoot of osteology, the scientific study of bones, which in the past was utilized to support racial theories of various sorts. “Even though human osteology started largely as a ‘race science,’ where scholars measured crania to separate humans into races,” says Nikita, “it actually proves the exact opposite. Despite the anatomical variation seen across human groups, which is largely associated with our adaptation to different environments, when you strip people of their skin colour, hair colour, material culture, etc., and you are left with nothing but their bones, there is a deep sense of connectivity.”

She has worked with human skeletal remains from the prehistoric period until post-medieval times in a range of locations: Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Britain, Greece, Cyprus, and Lebanon. “My work,” she says, “has made me realize even more clearly how much all human populations share and have always shared throughout their history. We see differences in the frequencies of different pathologies or dietary patterns or other bioarchaeological aspects, but the similarities are much more pronounced.” For example, the impact of harsh external conditions on human skeletons in the past and the present is very similar, however different the settings. “Since the skeleton has specific means to respond to stress, usually through the new bone formation and bone resorption, we see the same signs of ‘suffering’ on skeletons of individuals in very different contexts.”

The Trailblazing Archaeologist Uncovering the Untold Stories of Prehistoric Skeletons
The “Lovers of Valdaro” bone remains, some six millennia old, found near Mantua, Italy. Emotional neutrality is not always possible.

What you say brings to mind the work of pathologists, who try to determine the cause of death through the remains.

“Definitely. Osteoarchaeology draws methods and approaches from biology, genetics, anatomy, chemistry and geology. And, in particular, forensic anthropology, which deals with the study of recently deceased individuals, shares many methods and approaches with osteoarchaeology. In forensic anthropology, the key aim is to identify the deceased, as well as determine the circumstances of death. Therefore, great emphasis is placed on determining the age at death, sex, stature and ancestry of the individual to whom the skeleton belongs, but also different types of trauma that may manifest on the skeleton – such as sharp force or blunt force.

“In osteoarchaeology,” Nikita continues, “we also estimate age at death, sex and stature, and we assess various pathological lesions, including trauma. Almost all the methods we have for estimating sex and age at death have been developed with the help of modern skeletal collections where the sex and age of the deceased were known in advance. However, our aim is to explore what the living conditions were like in the past, rather than the circumstances of death.”

Estimating the age at death and gender can offer clues to the demographic profiles of different groups; for example, whether infant mortality was high, or whether men died younger than women. In any event, Nikita adds, “I appreciate that the study of human skeletal remains is a privilege and not a right, and such remains should be treated with dignity and respect. Although I try to be emotionally neutral, this is not always possible. For example, in cases where I have an individual with some serious pathology, it is impossible not to think how painful his or her life must have been.”

When you strip people of their skin color, hair color, material culture, etc., and you are left with nothing but their bones, there is a deep sense of connectivity.

Efthymia Nikita

Everyone dies in the end

In the year 900 B.C.E., a people known as the Garamantes occupied the core of the Sahara Desert; they lived in the region for the next 1,500 years. The prevailing view among archaeologists and prehistorians was that, given the external conditions, life there, in what is today the Libyan desert, was nasty, brutish and short. Nikita, together with scientists from Cambridge and Leicester universities, decided to examine this hypothesis by comparing data from skeletal remains found in the heart of the Sahara with similar remains from other African communities along the Mediterranean coast and the banks of the Nile. The analysis showed that life in the desert was not necessarily more difficult or shorter than life next to water sources and that nutrition, too, was apparently not more meager.

In terms of how strenuous life in the Sahara was, an analysis of the remains of the Garamantes “suggests a population successful at coping with a harsh environment of high and fluctuating temperatures and reduced water and food resources,” Nikita says. Few differences were found between men and women, though “the lower limbs were significantly stronger among males than females, possibly due to higher levels of mobility associated with herding.”

A second question related to life in the Sahara studied by Nikita involved the mobility of residents. The classical archaeological material evidence supported the assumption that a large number of individuals crossed the Sahara Desert, despite the extreme conditions prevailing there. But Nikita’s findings refuted this hypothesis. “Our study,” she explains, “examined whether the desert inhibited extended gene flow among populations. Gene flow was assessed by means of cranial morphology. On this basis, we found that despite the fact that this population was at the centre of various networks, the Sahara Desert posed important limitations to gene flow between the Garamantes and other North African populations.

Efthymia Nikita at an excavation site.

Another project examined differences between Garamantian women and men with regard to mobility. On the one hand, it was hypothesized that mobility among men might be higher, due to combat or commerce; on the other hand, women might have been more mobile, due to marriage, in whose wake they might have moved to other settlements to be with their husband’s families. The bones showed that mobility was equally low in both sexes: Neither men nor women moved about very much.

Classical archaeology can find graves and grave goods, describe the material culture and can suggest for instance whether the deceased was rich or poor. Osteoarchaeology can suggest whether a seemingly wealthier person really did live an easier life, Nikita explains. Skeletal remains may also reveal familial ties and provide a broader picture of past communities.

More recently, she examined “human mobility in Cyprus during the Early Christian and Late Byzantine-Frankish periods,” which relates to Nikita. “For a case study, we used the [burial] site of the Hill of Agios Georgios in Nicosia. The results identified one individual who likely originated outside Cyprus and several more [from Cyprus] who were nonlocal to the burial site.” In other words, there was mobility, but it was likely more regional than far-flung. “Regarding men and women, no significant difference was found and they are both represented among the ‘nonlocals,’ so we cannot attribute the mobility to some gender-based factor.” This could not have been determined only from analysis of inanimate objects found at the burial site. The study of bones, Nikita emphasizes, provides a broad demographic picture. In the end, everyone dies: rich and poor, exalted military leaders and slaves. Whereas, say, the examination of objects in cemeteries, can provide much information about the way the living buried the dead, the study of bones will tell an all-inclusive story.

For example, a study Nikita conducted together with colleagues, involved two Cypriot communities that, according to the evidence, engaged principally in agriculture during the 16th and 17th centuries – the transition from the Venetian period to the Ottoman. A comparison was made between adults and children and between women and men of the two populations. The researchers found that despite the similarity in the ways of life of the two communities, one of them experienced greater everyday physical stress. The researchers found more injuries and greater attrition of the skeletal remains. The disparity is discernible among the children as well: Among the population that led a harder life, the bones of the children showed that they, too, were not spared.”

Among the grounds for awarding you the Dan David Prize, the foundation states that you have made it your goal to tell the untold stories of those who have been forgotten, such as children and women, “in order to form a more well-rounded view of the past.” What motivates your research?

“I would say that anger is my main motivation… I am Greek, and I get frustrated when I hear our politicians refer to our ‘glorious past and ancestors,’ obviously referring to men, to distill a rather misguided sense of ethnic pride. While I respect the importance of feeling proud of one’s country and the fact that a country’s history is an important factor for such pride, it is our obligation as scientists to promote a deeper understanding of our history. Osteoarchaeology gives us direct access to our ancestors – not just the politicians and military men, but the everyday people who comprised the vast majority of our ancestors. With the prize money, my priority will be to expand osteoarchaeological research in the Eastern Mediterranean, in conjunction with historical evidence, but also to create a series of resources for educators, parents and the general public to effectively communicate our findings.”

Excavation of Byzantine shipwreck in Aegean reveals 5th-century ceramics

Excavation of Byzantine shipwreck in Aegean reveals 5th-century ceramics

Excavations of a Byzantine shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island Samos have revealed that the ship and its contents likely date to some time between 480 and 520 AD, the Greek Culture Ministry announced.

Excavation of Byzantine shipwreck in Aegean reveals 5th-century ceramics
A Byzantine shipwreck in Greece was dated to some time between 480 and 520 AD.

The shipwreck is located in the sea near the small Fournoi island group, which is southwest of Samos. The 15 amphorae found in the sand near the wreck, along with the wooden skeleton of the ship itself, were in remarkably good condition.

There are nearly 60 shipwrecks from various historical periods located in the region.

Despite the fact that the shipwreck was found in one of the steepest and most inaccessible areas of the islands, it was chosen for further study during the 2021 excavation season due to the fact that it was extremely well-preserved.

Experts believe that the ship’s wooden framing survived throughout the centuries because it was crushed under the rest of the ship and oxygen couldn’t reach it, stalling the process of decay.

Archaeologists found 15 amphorae at the site of a Byzantine shipwreck in Greece. Archaeologists worked throughout last year to clear sand and debris from the wreck in order to provide access for experts to conduct studies of the site.

This allowed archaeologists to discover the 15 amphorae, many of which have been linked to various areas across the surrounding region.

The distinct style of one amphora is linked to the city of Sinope on the Black Sea, and six other amphorae are thought to be from Crimea and Heaclea Pontica on the Black Sea. Some ceramics found at the site are also connected to Phocaea in Asia Minor.

These finds reflect the expansionist trade policy of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I, who was the ruler during the time the shipwreck occurred.

Greek archaeologist Giorgos Koutsouflakis is heading the underwater excavations at the site, and his team includes 25 divers, among whom are students, archaeologists, photographers, and others.

In total, they have completed nearly 300 dives at the site and spent over 200 hours underwater excavating the shipwreck. Work at the site will continue into future seasons.

There are many ancient shipwrecks across the Greek seas, and archaeologists have found countless historic treasures in these sunken archaeological sites.

Off the Greek island of Alonissos, one such shipwreck has been transformed into an underwater archaeology museum, where divers can explore the shipwreck underwater.

At the 5th century BC wreck of Peristera, divers accompanied by guides can get a close look at the huge pile of amphorae, which extends to the sea bottom for a length of 25 meters (82 feet).

The shipwreck, which is one of the most important in all of classical antiquity, was loaded with thousands of wine amphorae from Mendi, an ancient city of Halkidiki, and Peparithos, today’s Skopelos, areas known in antiquity for their wine.

These Ancient Greek Helmets Tell of a Naval Battle 2,500 Years Ago

These Ancient Greek Helmets Tell of a Naval Battle 2,500 Years Ago

Archaeologists in southern Italy announced last week that they unearthed two helmets, fragments of weapons and armour, bits of pottery and the remains of a possible temple to Athena at an archaeological excavation of the ancient Greek city of Velia, reports Frances D’Emilio for the Associated Press (AP).

These Ancient Greek Helmets Tell of a Naval Battle 2,500 Years Ago
Chalcidian helmets such as this one were often worn by ancient Greek warriors.

Researchers, who have been working the site since last July, announced in a translated statement that they believe that these artefacts are linked to a major maritime battle that changed the balance of power in the Mediterranean nearly 2,500 years ago.

Ancient Greeks may have left the items behind after the Battle of Alalia. Between 541 and 535 BCE, a fleet of Phocaean ships—who had set up a colony, Alalia, on the island of Corsica—set sail on the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea to fend off attacks from neighbouring Etruscan and Carthaginian forces, per the statement.

An archaeologist works to free one of the helmets from the dig site.

Though the Greeks emerged victoriously, the costly sea battle ultimately spurred the Phocaean colonists to leave Alalia and establish a colony closer to other Greek settlements along the southern coast of Italy.

Settlers from Phocaea sailed for the mainland and purchased a plot of land that would eventually become Velia, according to the Guardian.

Initial studies of the helmets reveal that one was designed in the Greek Chalcidian style, while the other helmet resembles the Negua headpieces typically worn by Etruscan warriors, per ANSA. 

The archaeologists suggest Greek soldiers might have stolen these helmets from conquered Etruscan troops during the Battle of Alalia, per the statement.

An aerial view of the dig site at the acropolis of Velia, an ancient Greek colony in present-day southern Italy that was founded shortly after the Battle of Alalia.

In another major find, researchers also unearthed several brick walls that date to Velia’s founding in 540 B.C.E. and may have once formed a temple to the mythical Greek goddess of war and wisdom, Athena, as Angela Giuffrida reports for the Guardian.

Measuring about 60 feet long by 23 feet wide, the walls were likely constructed in the years just following the Battle of Alalia, says Massimo Osanna, the archaeological park director and head of Italian state museums, per Italian news agency ANSA.

The archaeologists say the Phocaeans may have offered the enemy armour as a tribute to the goddess.

Archaeologists unearthed two helmets including one, pictured here, that appears to be created in the Etruscan “Negua” style. Experts suggest that Greek soldiers might have stolen this piece of armour from Etruscan forces during the Battle of Alalia.

“It is, therefore, possible that the [Phocaeans] fleeing from Alalia raised [the temple] immediately after their arrival, as was their custom, after purchasing from the locals the land necessary to settle and resume the flourishing trade for which they were famous,” says Osanna in the translated statement. “And to the relics offered to their goddess to propitiate her benevolence, they added the weapons snatched from the enemies in that epic battle at sea.”

Located near the structure, the team found fragments of pottery inscribed with the Greek word for “sacred,” several pieces of bronze and metal weapons and bits of what appears to be a large, decorated shield.

Researchers plan to clean and analyze the artefacts in a laboratory for further study, where the director says they hope to find more information, particularly on the helmets.

She says in that statement that there may be inscriptions inside of them, something common in ancient armour, that could help trace the armour’s history, such as the identity of the warriors who wore them.

The World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Has Been Discovered at the Bottom of Black Sea

The World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Has Been Discovered at the Bottom of Black Sea

The oldest intact shipwreck ever has been found resting on the bottom of the Black Sea. Protected by the oxygen-free water at the seafloor, the ship has been sitting undisturbed since 400 B.C., researchers from the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea MAP) announced Tuesday.

The World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Has Been Discovered at the Bottom of Black Sea
This ancient Greek vessel, described as the world’s oldest intact shipwreck, was discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea off the coast of Bulgaria. It dates back to the year 400 B.C.

It is a Greek vessel that looks like something the mythical hero Odysseus could have sailed — literally.

According to the researchers, a very similar vessel is painted on the side of the British Museum’s “Siren Vase,” which depicts Odysseus chained to the mast of his ship as it sails past the sweet-voiced sirens.

The ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum: the shipwreck is believed to be a vessel similar to that shown bearing Odysseus.

“A ship, surviving intact, from the Classical world, lying in over 2 kilometres [1.2 miles] of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” University of Southampton archaeologist Jon Adams, leader of the Black Sea MAP, said in the statement. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”

Fascinating find

The ship was discovered in the fall of 2017, on the third of three survey trips to the Black Sea. Led by Adams, Lyudmil Vagalinsky of the Bulgarian Academy of Science and Kalin Dimitrov of the Center of Underwater Archaeology in Bulgaria, the research team surveyed 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometres) of the seabed during all three seasons.

The investigations turned up more than 60 shipwrecks, including some previously reported to date back to the Ottoman and Byzantine empires.

The Black Sea has only a narrow connection to the Mediterranean Sea, so it drains poorly. And the Black Sea is fed by fresh water from the surrounding land, which floats on top of the saltier water closer to the bottom.

This salty layer is extremely low in oxygen, which keeps wood-eating microbes away from shipwrecks on the seafloor. For that reason, even centuries-old ships look as if they went down yesterday. 

The Greek vessel sits about 1.2 miles (2 km) deep.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating to show that the wreck dates back more than 2,400 years. The ship rests on its side, its mast and prow clearly visible and unbroken.    

Rising waters

The main goal of the Black Sea MAP is to understand changes that have occurred since the last ice age when the sea was much lower.

Because the area has been a hub of civilization, the shipwrecks at the bottom form time capsules, revealing who used the sea for commerce and how they built their vessels.

The researchers have also excavated a settlement on the Bulgarian side of the sea near the Ropotamo River.

The site tells a story of the Black Sea as melting glaciers raised sea levels and forced humans to adapt. In the lowest layers of the excavation, about 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) below the current seafloor, are timbers and hearth fragments from a Bronze Age settlement, the researchers previously reported. But by the Byzantine era (A.D. 330 -1453), the site was inundated, and ceramics revealed that people used the spot as a safe harbour.

By the Ottoman era (A.D. 1299-1920), the spot was a deeper anchorage for trading vessels.

5,000-Year-Old Town Discovered Underwater in Greece

5,000-Year-Old Town Discovered Underwater in Greece

Archaeologists surveying the world’s oldest submerged town have found ceramics dating back to the Final Neolithic. Their discovery suggests that Pavlopetri, off the southern Laconia coast of Greece, was occupied some 5,000 years ago — at least 1,200 years earlier than originally thought.

These remarkable findings have been made public by the Greek government after the start of a five-year collaborative project involving the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and The University of Nottingham.

As a Mycenaean town, the site offers potential new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society. Pavlopetri has added importance as it was a maritime settlement from which the inhabitants coordinated local and long-distance trade.

The ruins of Pavlopetri are located a short distance from the coastline, just a few meters underwater in Vatika Bay in southern Greece.
Could the Pavlopetri site in southern Greece have been the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis?

The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project aims to establish exactly when the site was occupied, what it was used for and through a systematic study of the geomorphology of the area, how the town became submerged.

This summer the team carried out a detailed digital underwater survey and study of the structural remains, which until this year were thought to belong to the Mycenaean period — around 1600 to 1000 BC.

The survey surpassed all their expectations. Their investigations revealed another 150 square metres of new buildings as well as ceramics that suggest the site was occupied throughout the Bronze Age — from at least 2800 BC to 1100 BC.

The work is being carried out by a multidisciplinary team led by Mr Elias Spondylis, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Greece and Dr Jon Henderson, an underwater archaeologist from the Department of Archaeology at The University of Nottingham.

The resulting research project used a novel combination of archaeology, underwater robotics, and state-of-the-art graphics to survey the seabed and bring the ancient town back to life.

Dr Jon Henderson said: “This site is unique in that we have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed. Equally, as a harbour settlement, the study of the archaeological material we have recovered will be extremely important in terms of revealing how maritime trade was conducted and managed in the Bronze Age.”

Possibly one of the most important discoveries has been the identification of what could be a megaron — a large rectangular great hall — from the Early Bronze Age period. They have also found over 150 metres of new buildings including what could be the first example of a pillar crypt ever discovered on the Greek mainland. Two new stone-built cist graves were also discovered alongside what appears to be a Middle Bronze Age pithos burial.

Mr Spondylis said: “It is a rare find and it is significant because as a submerged site it was never re-occupied and therefore represents a frozen moment of the past.”

The Archaeological coordinator Dr Chrysanthi Gallou a postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Nottingham is an expert in Aegean Prehistory and the archaeology of Laconia.

Dr Gallou said: “The new ceramic finds form a complete and exceptional corpus of pottery covering all sub-phases from the Final Neolithic period (mid 4th millennium BC) to the end of the Late Bronze Age (1100 BC).

In addition, the interest from the local community in Laconia has been fantastic.

The investigation at Pavlopetri offers a great opportunity for them to be actively involved in the preservation and management of the site, and subsequently for the cultural and touristic development of the wider region.”

The team was joined by Dr Nicholas Flemming, a marine geo-archaeologist from the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Southampton, who discovered the site in 1967 and returned the following year with a team from Cambridge University to carry out the first-ever survey of the submerged town.

Using just snorkels and tape measures they produced a detailed plan of the prehistoric town which consisted of at least 15 separate buildings, courtyards, streets, two-chamber tombs and at least 37 cist graves.

Despite the potential international importance of Pavlopetri, no further work was carried out at the site until this year.

Through a British School of Archaeology in Athens permit, The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project began its five-year study of the site with the aim of defining the history and development of Pavlopetri.

A digital reconstruction of the buildings at Pavlopetri was submerged by the sea about 1100 BC.