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The Black Sea MAP (Maritime Archaeological Project) was established to survey the floor of the Black Sea to determine the impact of sea-level changes on early human settlements at the end of the last ice age. The search for answers has led to an unexpected bonus for historians – ancient shipwrecks which provide invaluable information about civilizations of the past. Since the project began three years ago, over 67 old vessels, most from the 14th to 19th centuries, have been found. On October 23, 2018, the team of international sailors and researchers, led by University of Southampton Professor Jon Adams, announced their most exciting find yet: an intact shipwreck that dates back over 2,400 years!
The world’s known oldest shipwreck, which is located a mile below sea level, was first sighted by MAP’s survey vessel Stril Explorer’s ROV (remotely operated vehicle) in 2017. Measuring 75 feet long, the ship, lying on its side, is in impeccable condition – complete with mast, rudders, and rowing benches! The researchers, who confirmed the wreck’s age by carbon dating a small piece, believe it was a Greek trading vessel from 400 BC. Before this, the only evidence of ships from this era had been found on decorations such as the “Siren Vase” which sits in the British Museum. The artifact is attributed to the “Siren Painter,” a mysterious Greek artist who decorated several red-figured vases between the years 480 BC to 470 BC, but never signed his or her name.
“A ship surviving intact from the classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said Adams. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”
Adam, who plans to leave the shipwreck in its ancient grave, believes while the oar and sail-powered vessel was primarily used for trading, it may have also been involved in “a little bit of raiding” of coastal cities. The professor says, “Ancient seafarers were not hugging the coast timidly going from port to port but going blue-water sailing.” Though the ROV has not examined the ship's cargo, the team suspects it to include goods like grains, furs, seafood, and perhaps even wine, stored in jars called amphorae, all things that have been found in other similar discoveries. Unfortunately, given that the team does not have funding to return to the shipwreck to investigate, its contents may forever remain a mystery.
Given that the Black Sea was once a hub for traders from Greece, Persia, and neighboring areas, the large number of shipwrecks is not surprising. The researchers say the ships remain in pristine condition because of the depth in which they rest – more than double the height of the world’s tallest skyscraper. In waters so deep, oxygen is sparse making the environment inhospitable for organisms that feast on organic materials such as wood. As a result, there is an extraordinary opportunity for the preservation of undersea historical artifacts, including shipwrecks and the cargoes they carried.
Resources: Nationalgeographic.com, dailymail.co.uk,scmp.com, bbc.com