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Archaeologists have discovered and examined the wreck of an ancient merchant ship

The Greek Ministry of Culture has published the results of an underwater survey carried out on the wreck of an ancient merchant ship. Greek archaeologists have examined and documented the wreck of an ancient trading ship from the early Byzantine period. They located the vessel in the north-eastern Aegean Sea, near the Fourni Archipelago. As
Published: March 7, 2022 - 09:00
Updated: July 23, 2023 - 00:13
Archaeologists have discovered and examined the wreck of an ancient merchant ship

The Greek Ministry of Culture has published the results of an underwater survey carried out on the wreck of an ancient merchant ship.

Greek archaeologists have examined and documented the wreck of an ancient trading ship from the early Byzantine period. They located the vessel in the north-eastern Aegean Sea, near the Fourni Archipelago. As a result of the excavations, the scientists made a detailed documentation of the entire site.

Archaeologists explore ancient wreck of merchant ship
Archaeologists prepare artefacts for excavation Photo Stefanos Kontos/www.singlebreathphoto.com

The wreck of an ancient trading ship from the fifth to sixth centuries filled with amphorae was examined by archaeologists in 2021. The divers located it near Cape Fygou, where it rests on a sandy bottom at a depth of 43-48 metres. As the site is full of artefacts that provide great historical context, it is therefore a valuable resource for researchers.

All underwater research was carried out by archaeologists under the direction of Dr George Koutsouflakis and the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. This is one of the departments of the Greek Ministry of Culture and is responsible for the submerged monuments of Greece.

Cargo of an ancient ship
Load of amphorae on the seabed Photo: Stefanos Kontos/www.singlebreathphoto.com

58 wrecks discovered in an area of 44 km2

The Fourni Archipelago comprises 13 small islands and islets located between the larger islands of Samos, Ikaria and Patmos. In ancient times it was an important navigational crossroads connecting the Black and Aegean Seas with Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt. The area is known for its very strong winds, which blow all year round and cause particularly dangerous conditions for shipping. Not surprisingly, the nearby waters are full of wrecks, the oldest of which date back to ancient times.

Archaeological diver on the wreck of an ancient ship
Archaeological diver over an ancient shipwreck Photo Stefanos Kontos/www.singlebreathphoto.com

In the past six seasons of underwater archaeological research, as many as 58 wrecks have been discovered here, sinking in an area of just 44 km2. This is the largest concentration of wrecks ever found in Mediterranean waters.

The age of the wrecks that archaeologists have discovered varies greatly. The oldest discovered vessels come from the period between 800-480 BC. The oldest discovered vessels come from the period 800-480 BC, whereas the youngest date back to the 20th century. However, the vast majority of shipwrecks come from the classical period (the times of ancient Greece, Rome and Byzantium).

The wrecks are mostly intact

Approximately 90% of the wrecks investigated were found with scattered amphorae charges. These large ceramic vessels were an extremely popular means of storing a wide variety of products including wine, oil, fish sauces and honey.

Diver and large amphora
Archaeologist and large amphora Photo Stefanos Kontos/www.singlebreathphoto.com

Undoubtedly, the wreck surveyed in the 2021 season was chosen because of its well-preserved cargo. It includes as many as six different types of amphorae, which come from the Crimea and the Pontus region of the Black Sea. The ship was also carrying a cargo of pottery that came from the Phocai area on the west coast of Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey.

A 25-strong team of marine archaeologists cleared the wreck of sand and opened a test pit. The researchers excavated fifteen amphorae, including a type associated with the city of Sinope on the Black Sea coast. Wood fragments, probably part of the ship’s hull, which survived in layers below the cargo, were also retrieved for analysis. The retrieval of vessels from the wreck proved to be extremely important, as it was thanks to them that the age of the find could be determined.

Cargo of amphorae from the wreck of an ancient merchant ship
Cargo of amphorae from the wreck of an ancient merchant ship Photo Stefanos Kontos/www.singlebreathphoto.com

Archaeologists will continue work in coming years

In addition to the trial excavations and the collection of archaeological material, the archaeologists also surveyed several nearby wrecks. In total, during last year’s research season, the archaeological team conducted a total of 292 individual dives. This translated into nearly 220 hours of underwater work. The 44-square-kilometre site in question represents one of the richest research areas of its kind currently known to underwater archaeologists. The Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities is planning more detailed research in the coming years.

Photo: Stefanos Kontos/www.singlebreathphoto.com

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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