A group of Greek and American underwater archeologists have discovered 22 shipwrecks around a small Greek archipelago. The ship graveyard was found as the archaeological team explored a 17-square mile area of the Fourni archipelago, which is located between the Samos and Icaria islands.
This was the first time an underwater archeological expedition has been conducted in the area. The discovery adds about 12 per cent to the total number of known ancient shipwrecks in Greece.
The expedition was a collaboration between the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities (EUA) and the RPM Nautical Foundation (RPMNF). The expedition was led by George Koutsouflakis of EUA and Jeffrey Royal and Peter Campbell, both of whom are with RPMNF.
According to Koutsouflakis, researchers typically uncover four or five ships during surveys, making the Fourni discovery among the largest ever.
By comparison, the US recently created a national marine sanctuary in Lake Michigan to protect 39 known shipwrecks located in 875 square miles.
The number of shipwrecks indicates that region was once a primary shipping route.
Fourni lies at the centre of what was likely a major east-west crossing route, as well as a north-south route that connected the Aegean to the Levant. Ships travelling from the Greek mainland to Asia Minor, or ships leaving the Aegean for the Levant likely had to pass by Fourni.
The wrecks include cargo that dates as far back as 700 BC to the 16th century, and the discovery is being lauded the top archeological find of the year. In addition to the volume of ships discovered, the cargo loaded on the vessels was educational as well.
The cargoes reveal long distance trades between the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt. And at least three ships carried a shipment of jars that had never before been found on previous shipwrecks.
According to the researchers, the large number of ships does not indicate the route was unsafe. On the contrary, it suggests that the route was among the busiest routes because it was among the safest. According to Campbell, given the number of ships discovered and their age range, a wreck occurred roughly once per century.
Campbell speculates that majority of the wrecks were caught in storms.
However, the number of shipwrecks in the region could increase because the team has only surveyed about five per cent of the Fourni coastline. The team plans to resume surveying the region next year.