Archaeologists find what could be the largest concentration of ancient shipwrecks in the Aegean

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In an unprecedented discovery, archaeologists in Greece have uncovered what could be the largest concentration of shipwrecks ever found in the Aegean Sea and possibly, even the entire Mediterranean region. As part of the mission, the team recently came across at least 58 shipwrecks, along with a treasure trove of artifacts dating from ancient Greece all the way to the 20th century.

Found in the waters near Fournoi, an archipelago of small Greek islands lying between Ikaria, Samos and Patmos in the North Aegean region, most of the artifacts belong to the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras, researchers stated. Although this isn’t the first time that archaeologists have stumbled upon an ancient shipwreck in the Aegean, it could, quite possibly, be the largest.

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The finds, as per the team, tell the story of how multiple ancient vessels, laden with cargo and passing through the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, went down as a result of sudden storms. Speaking about the discovery, Dr. Peter Campbell, an underwater archaeologist at the RPM Nautical Foundation and the co-director of the Fournoi project, said –

The excitement is difficult to describe, I mean, it was just incredible. We knew that we had stumbled upon something that was going to change the history books. I would call it, probably, one of the top archaeological discoveries of the century in that we now have a new story to tell of a navigational route that connected the ancient Mediterranean.

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Launched in 2015 by the foundation, in collaboration with Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the survey mission originally uncovered 22 shipwrecks in the region. Less than three years later, the number has risen to 58. So far, the team of archaeologists has retrieved over 300 antiquities – mainly amphorae – from the site of the wrecks.

According to the researchers, these ships were likely carrying goods from the Black Sea, Greece, Asia Minor, Italy, Spain, Sicily, Cyprus, the Levant, Egypt, and North Africa when they met their untimely fate. Shedding light on the findings, Dr. George Koutsouflakis, an archaeologist from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and the Fournoi survey project director, stated –

Ninety percent of the shipwrecks that we found in the Fournoi archipelago carried a cargo of amphorae. The amphora is a vessel used mainly for transporting liquids and semi-liquids in antiquity, so the goods it would be transporting were mostly wine, oil, fish sauces, perhaps honey.

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Fish sauce from the Black Sea region, in particular, was an expensive item during antiquity, Koutsouflakis noted. Among the wrecks dating back to the late Roman period, the team found amphorae from north Africa and the Black Sea region, both of which are quite rare to come across in the Aegean.

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Currently located in the Ikaria regional unit, Fournoi consists of 20 small islands, reefs and islets and has a population of not more than 1,500. During antiquity and later on, it served as a stopover point for ships on the Aegean. However, given that the region frequently experiences powerful squalls and is surrounded by rocky cliffs, bad weather was probably what caused the ships to sink. Koutsouflakis added –

Because there are narrow passages between the islands, a lot of gulfs, and descending winds from the mountains, sudden windstorms are created. It is not a coincidence that a large number of the wrecks have been found in those passages…if there is a sudden change in the wind’s direction, and if the captain was from another area and was not familiar with the peculiarities of the local climate, he could easily end up losing control of the ship and falling upon the rocks.

Later on, Fournoi was also frequented by pirates looking to loot vessels laden with valuable cargo. Although most of the wrecks were the result of unexpected storms, some may have been caused by pirate attacks, the researchers claimed.

As per reports, the discoveries were made by the team following sightings by local fishermen and sponge divers. While some of the ships are still well-preserved, others at the site crumbled into pieces after hitting the surrounding rocks. Koutsouflakis said –

We have wrecks that are completely virgin. We feel we were the first ones to find them, but they are in very deep waters – at a depth of 60 meters. Usually from 40 meters and below we have wrecks in good condition. Anything above 40 meters has either lost its consistency or has been badly looted in the past.

The team, including archaeologists, architects, conservators, and divers led by Koutsouflakis, hopes to build an institute for underwater archaeology as well as a museum to house the finds in Fournoi.

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Source/Image Credits: Reuters

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About the Author

Sukanya Mukherjee
With a master's degree in English Literature and several years of writing experience under her belt, Sukanya specializes in creating content particularly related to history, science, and technology. In the past, she worked as a business journalist at a reputable digital media company. Apart from being an avid fan of Victorian literature, she can found spending her free time baking and exploring the Great Himalayas!
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