A Greek-American archaeological expedition has discovered 22 shipwrecks over 13 days in a small Greek archipelago (group of Islands), which researchers say may be the ancient shipwreck capital of the world.
The findings in the Fourni archipelago in the Greek Islands bring to light ancient trade networks that once connected the entire Mediterranean, researchers said.
“The concentration of ancient shipwrecks is unprecedented,” said Peter Campbell, University of Southampton archaeologist and project co-director from the US based RPM Nautical Foundation. “The volume of shipwrecks in Fourni, an island that had no major cities or harbours, speaks to its role in navigation as well as the perils of sailing the eastern Aegean,” he added.
The wrecks date from the Archaic Period (700-480 BC) through the Late Medieval Period (16th century). Several date to the Classical (480-323 BC) and Hellenistic (323-31 BC) periods, but over half of the wrecks date to the Late Roman Period (300-600 AD).
The ships’ cargos point to the importance of long distance trade between the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt – in all these periods.
“What is astonishing is not only the number of the shipwrecks, but also the diversity of the cargos, some of which have been found for first time,” said Greek director George Koutsouflakis. At least three of the sites have cargos that have not been found previously on shipwrecks.
Archaeologists mapped each wreck using photogrammetry to create 3D site plans. Representative artifacts were excavated and raised from each wreck site for scientific analysis.
These artifacts are primarily amphoras, which were terracotta jars that carried bulk goods prior to the invention of wooden barrels. The finds are currently undergoing conservation at the Ephorate’s laboratory in Athens and may go on displays in museums in the future.
Fourni is a collection of thirteen islands and islets located between the eastern Aegean islands of Samos and Icaria. Fourni lies along a major east-west crossing route, as well as the primary north-south route that connected the Aegean to the Levant. The small islands never hosted large cities, instead their importance comes from their critical role as an anchorage and navigational point in the eastern Aegean.
This is the first underwater archaeological expedition to the islands. The project’s success has come through working with local sponge divers, fishermen, and free divers together with technology and archaeological methods.
The discovery adds 12 per cent to the total number of known ancient shipwrecks in Greece. The findings suggest a great quantity of the shipwrecks still await discovery in Fourni.