Perhaps a somewhat ominous title to head this month’s Blog but nothing is further from the truth. On the contrary. In many of our columns we share our conviction that the bottom of the Greek seas are filled with traces of her rich history and heritage. A small part of this submerged rich past has recently been uncovered. The title refers to the extraordinary underwater discoveries that have been made these past four years by a small group of researchers and explorers near the small island archipelago of Fourni. This small cluster of Aegean islands is located within the triangle of Patmos, Samos and Ikaria. In total the archipelago consists of 20 small islands, Fourni being the largest. Roughly 1450 people inhabit these islands. The Fourni islands lie at the junction of two main ancient shipping routes, in treacherous waters both notorious for the narrow passages and unpredictable winds.
In the summer of 2015 the first exploration of the area was carried out by a Greek-American team of archeologists, architects and divers. That first summer 22 new wrecks were discovered. Those discoveries were rapidly picked up and covered by global news networks. In the summers that followed the search area was increased … and deepened. In the meantime 36 more wrecks have been discovered bringing the total to 58 wrecks, amounting to the largest concentration of old wrecks in the Aegean Sea and possibly the Mediterranean Sea. The ages of the wrecks vary considerably. The oldest wrecks date back to the sixth century BC and the youngest wreck is from around the 20th century.
By far most of the wrecks were carrying cargoes of amphorae, terracotta jars with two handles and pointed bases. Amphorae were mostly used for the storage and transportation of liquids such as oils and wines, but sometimes also for foodstuffs. Divers also uncovered terracotta (oil) lamps, incised with the names of the Corinthian artisans who made them, Octavius and Lucius. The team of researchers has gathered hundreds of ancient relics for further research and analysis.
The historical accounts and tips of sponge divers and fishermen played a big role in the pinpointing and exploration of possible wreck locations. Most wrecks uncovered so far lie at depths between 10 and 40 meters. Unfortunately the researchers also observed clear signs of looting and damage of the wrecks at these relatively shallow depths. The more recently discovered wrecks lie at greater depths and appear not to have been disturbed over the centuries.
Inspired by the extraordinary discoveries various members of the research team have proposed to establish a center for marine archeology in the region as well as a museum to share the findings with the public.
But it doesn’t end there! A week after the latest findings of the Fourni archipelago were shared with the public scientists elsewhere announced the discovery of the world’s oldest, fully intact wreck on the bottom of the Black Sea. With the help of advanced seabed scanning equipment researchers identified a 23 meter long wreck at a depth of approximately two kilometers. Due to the limited oxygen levels at that depth the wreck has been preserved for over 2400 years and is said to be in surprisingly good condition. The scans indicate that the mast, rudders and rowing benches are all present. According to the researchers the wreck shows many similarities with the seafaring vessels that can often be admired on ancient Greek amphorae.