Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

2,000-Year-Old Shipwreck Graveyard Discovered Near Small Greek Island

It really can’t be overstated just how big and unknown the ocean is. And the more we improve imaging technology and other tools for surveying the deep blue, the more we’re reminded that we still don’t know the extent of what’s at the bottom—both in terms of nature and in terms of our own history. There’s a lot of people-stuff that sank and was forgotten. One such pile of sunken people-stuff is a “shipwreck graveyard” discovered recently in the Aegean sea—nine ships between 2,700 and 1,800 years old that never made it to their destination, and instead wound up some 150 feet below the water off the coast of the tiny Greek island of Levitha.

Five of the ships so far have been identified, according to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. These five all sank approximately 2,000 years ago and were carrying loads of amphorae, ornate jugs used to carry valuable liquids like wine or oil. Levitha and the surrounding islands were key stops on the trade routes between the different cultures of the Mediterranean sea and the loads of the ships reflects that. The amphorae on these ships were found to have come from the cities of Knidos, Kos, Rhodes, Phoenicia and Carthage, indicating that these ships traveled and traded all over the Mediterranean.

A big pile of amphorae.

According to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, one of the more intriguing finds was a giant granite anchor pole. Weighing in at 880 pounds, archaeologists believe this anchor pole belonged to a “colossal” ship dating back to the 6th century BC.

There’s no mention of how any of these ships were sunk, or why there are so many of them sunk in the same location. It’s more than likely that it’s just the result of probability. Lots of traffic usually ends up in lots of crashes. The sea route through the area was used heavily and consistently through different time periods and different ruling empires. The ships identified during this expedition carried goods made during the Ptolemaic and Hellenistic Antigonid dynasties, as well as the early Christian periods and the time of the Ottoman empire.

Modern reconstruction of an ancient Greek trireme. Credit: George E. Koronaios (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The expedition that resulted in these findings consisted of 57 group dives off the coast of Levitha from June 15 to 29, led by archaeologist George Koutsouflakis, director of the Department of Underwater Archaeological Sites, Monuments and Research with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.

Despite such a great return on their work, the expedition only explored 30% of the Levitha’s coast. According to the Ministry of Culture, further investigations of Levitha and the surrounding islands are planned until 2021.

We’re constantly finding forgotten pieces of history on the sea floor, and there’s no telling what may yet be waiting down there. As much as our previous assumptions about the history of our species have been shattered in the last 100 years, with more and more shipwrecks and sunken cities being discovered every day there’s a good chance that the next 100 years will be even more surprising.