CAIRN Archaeologist Assists in the Discovery of Ancient Shipwrecks in Small Greek Archipelago

Raising an amphora by V MentogianisCAIRN Underwater Archeologist, Peter Campbell, is participating in a joint Greek-American expedition to the Fourni archipelago, which is bringing to light ancient trade networks. Twenty-two shipwrecks were discovered in only thirteen days in what may be the ancient shipwreck capital of the world.   The discovery is among the top archaeological finds of 2015.

The expedition was a collaboration between the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities (EUA) which is a division of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture responsible for Greece’s underwater cultural heritage and RPM Nautical Foundation (RPMNF), directed by George Koutsouflakis (EUA), Jeffrey Royal (RPMNF), and Peter Campbell (RPMNF/University of Southampton/CAIRN). The project’s success was based on working with local sponge divers, fishermen, and free divers rather than solely rely on technology.

Fourni is a collection of 13 islands and islets between the Aegean islands of Samos and Icaria, close to the Turkish coast. The small islands never hosted large cities; instead its importance comes from its critical role as an anchorage and navigational point in the eastern Aegean. 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 shipwrecks date from the Archaic Period (800-480 BC) though the Late Medieval Period (16th century). Several wrecks date to the Classical (480-323 BC) and Hellenistic (323-146 BC) periods, but over half of the wrecks date to the Late Roman Period (circa 250-550 AD). The ships’ cargoes point to the importance of long distance trade between the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt in all these periods. At least three of the sites have cargoes that have not previously been found on shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

Archaic shipwreck by V Mentogianis“The concentration of ancient shipwrecks is unprecedented,” says Peter Campbell, co-director from US based RPM Nautical Foundation. “With more time we will undoubtedly surpassed the 37 shipwrecks found in Istanbul’s Yenipaki harbor, which was once the most important harbor in the Mediterranean. The volume of shipwrecks in Fourni, an island that had no major cities or harbors, speaks to its role in navigation as well as the perils of sailing the eastern Aegean.”

For comparison, the United States recently created a national marine sanctuary in Lake Michigan to protect 39 known shipwrecks located in 875 square miles. Fourni has 22 known shipwreck in 17 square miles.

CAIRN Underwater Archaeologist Peter Campbell (Center)Less than 10% of Fourni’s coastline was explored by the expedition. Many more reported leads need to be followed up in future seasons. “The local response to the project was incredible and working with the community yielded results that surpassed all expectations,” says Campbell. “Archaeology is about people; those in the past as well as those in the present. The highlight of this project has been bringing the past back to life for islanders who are so engaged with their history.”

Archaeologists mapped each shipwreck using 3D photogrammetry. Representative artifacts were excavated from each wreck site for scientific analysis. These artifacts are undergoing conservation at the Ephorate’s laboratory and may go on displays in museums in the future.

Funding for the expedition was provided by the Honor Frost Foundation, a UK charity founded with an endowment by pioneer maritime archaeologist Honor Frost that funds research in the eastern Mediterranean. Sponsorship was provided by Carrefour Ikaria, Eurobrokers, and the Municipality of Fourni Korseon.

The discovery adds 12% to the total number of known ancient shipwrecks in Greece. The preliminary season suggests a great quantity of the shipwrecks await discovery in the archipelago. The team plans to return next year to continue the survey. At the request of the Director of the EUA Angeliki Simosi, the team also investigated a reported ancient shipwreck on the remote island of Levitha. The team documented the wreck, the 23rd of the expedition, which was a Phoenician ship dating to the Classical Period.

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