For the local fisherman of Fourni, a Greek archipelago situated near Turkey, the remains of the archaic world are not uncommon. Archaic pots and other artifacts are regularly found by inhabitants that spend time on the water. However, when a team of marine archaeologists was searching in the area, they could not be more surprised with what they dug up.
Last month, a research expedition went underway off the coast of Fourni, near Samos and Incarnia, and it could not have been more fruitful. Out of the waters of the east Aegea Sea, divers found the wreck of a Roman-era ship in shallow water on the very first dive.
Four days after that evidence of nine additional wrecks was unearthed, with six more turning up the day after. All in all, 22 wrecks were found in the 13 day expedition. Some appear to have been around 2,500 years old.
This was a huge shock to the archaeologists, who were expecting to find three or four sunken ships. Instead they found almost two dozen, which range from the Archaic period (700 to 480 BCE) to Midievel times (16th century CE).
The remarkable thing is that the wrecks, which were found in waters ranging from 55 meters (180 feet) to 3 meters (10 feet) deep were found in a search area that only covered 5% of the region’s coast (44 square kilometres, or 17 square miles). These wrecks are an addition to the 180 previous wrecks found in the area.
But why was there such a high volume of ships in the area? Fourni doesn’t seem to appear much in late Roman texts, and doesn’t have any major cities. There is evidence, however, that the area was home to many prosperous marble mines and a robust population, which could suggest that numerous populated harbors existed in the region.
As for the wrecks themselves, researchers were not looking for actual ships, but for their cargo instead. This is because the wood that primarily made up the ships did not fair too well in the sub-aquatic condition, decaying many years ago. The cargo, which mostly comprised of Archaic Pots from Samos and 2nd century amphoras from Sinop on the Black Sea, remained largely intact.
As for now, researchers are working to piece together the story of each ship, so as to complete the larger picture. Samples from the ships have been sent to labs in Athens to find out exactly what was on board in an attempt to find out what really happened all those years ago.