World's oldest intact shipwreck discovered in Black Sea
Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the world’s oldest intact shipwreck at the bottom of the Black Sea where it appears to have lain undisturbed for more than 2,400 years.
The 23-metre (75ft) vessel, thought to be ancient Greek, was discovered with its mast, rudders and rowing benches all present and correct just over a mile below the surface. A lack of oxygen at that depth preserved it, the researchers said.
“A ship surviving intact from the classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said Professor Jon Adams, the principal investigator with the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP), the team that made the find. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”
The ship is believed to have been a trading vessel of a type that researchers say has only previously been seen “on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum”.
The ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum: the shipwreck is believed to be a vessel similar to that shown bearing Odysseus. Photograph: Werner Forman/UIG via Getty Images
That work, which dates from about the same period, depicts a similar vessel bearing Odysseus past the sirens, with the Homeric hero lashed to the mast to resist their songs.
The team reportedly said they intended to leave the vessel where it was found, but added that a small piece had been carbon dated by the University of Southampton and claimed the results “confirmed [it] as the oldest intact shipwreck known to mankind”. The team said the data would be published at the Black Sea MAP conference at the Wellcome Collection in London later this week.
It was among more than 60 shipwrecks found by the international team of maritime archaeologists, scientists and marine surveyors, which has been on a three-year mission to explore the depths of the Black Sea to gain a greater understanding of the impact of prehistoric sea-level changes.
They said the finds varied in age from a “17th-century Cossack raiding fleet, through Roman trading vessels, complete with amphorae, to a complete ship from the classical period”.
The documentary team made a two-hour film that is due to be shown at the British Museum on Tuesday.
The sea of 60 ghostly wrecked ships
Deep beneath the Black Sea, off the coast of Bulgaria, ancient Greek ships are revealing answers to the mystery of the Noah’s Ark flood.
The old town of Nessebar is near-enough an island: a half mile of weathered wooden fishing houses with terracotta-tiled roofs that sit atop a rocky head, strung to the Bulgarian coast by only a narrow land bridge. It&rsquos also a dense stack of ruins layered on top of one another that stretch back more than 3,000 years, and is recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage site.
When walking into the old town, the twisting streets of 19th-Century fishing houses are parted by the medieval Church of St Stephen &ndash richly decorated with murals of Jesus calming the storm and 1,000 figures from the New Testament &ndash and the excavated ruins of the Stara Mitropolia Basilica, a cathedral dating back to the 5th Century when this was one of the most important Byzantine trading towns on the Black Sea coast.
Archaeologists and local fishermen have found even older relics. A Greek acropolis and pottery date from before the Romans&rsquo arrival, and there are walls built by the city&rsquos founders, the Thracians, the horse-riding warrior people who ruled over the Balkan Peninsula more than 2,000 years ago.
But to find the most surprising artefacts, you&rsquoll need to step off the island and into the surrounding sea.
Recent oceanographic research efforts using a pair of underwater remote operated vehicles (ROVs) has ventured below the Black Sea waters and revealed pieces of ancient history never before seen in such vivid resolution. These submarine missions have discovered ships from several millennia of seafaring trade and war, including the world&rsquos oldest intact shipwreck: a Greek trading ship from around 400BC lying uncannily well-preserved on the seabed.
And among the wrecks, new evidence offers clues from more than 7,000 years ago, when some experts believe the Black Sea was just a small freshwater lake. Geological samples drilled from the seabed could, at last, settle the mystery of whether it was here that waters once rushed in, flattening civilisations and leaving behind the story we know as Noah and the great biblical flood.
Zdravka Georgieva, maritime archaeologist at Bulgaria&rsquos Centre for Underwater Archaeology in nearby Sozopol, was born on Nessebar and learned to dive in the shallows of the Black Sea. &ldquoI really wanted to know what is beneath, what is under the water,&rdquo said Georgieva, who first heard about the unexplored remnants of old settlements and shipwrecks at the small Nessebar Archaeological Museum, which holds a smattering of historical artefacts. &ldquoI knew from the museum, and from people here, as a teenage girl, that there are historical monuments down there and I wanted to touch them and to observe them really closely.&rdquo
After studying at the University of Southampton&rsquos Marine Archaeology postgraduate centre in the UK, Georgieva has been working in her &ldquodream job&rdquo as part of the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea MAP), which aims to discover how the sea and its surroundings have changed since the last ice age by surveying the seabed.
The Anglo-Bulgarian team, led by Prof Jon Adams from the University of Southampton, in partnership with the Centre for Underwater Archaeology, discovered the 2,400-year-old Greek trading ship last year, in addition to more than 60 wrecks found in deep waters.
Appearing into view as the ROVs 3D-scanned the site, the ancient ship was lying on its side, the mast and rudder clearly visible as well as rowing benches and large ceramic containers in the hold. Georgieva called it &ldquothe most spectacular find &ndash so far.&rdquo
Georgieva agrees with other marine archaeologists that we are entering a golden age of discovery around the Black Sea.
Archaeologists had known that ancient civilisations had been built here and that ships had traded along the Black Sea coastline. But, until now, imaging technology was not yet advanced enough to provide a true picture of the bottom of the sea, ensuring that anything that lay down there remained shrouded in mystery.
&ldquoWe knew from historical sources that there had been colonisation of the Black Sea coast, from Greece, from the Mediterranean, but we hadn&rsquot discovered anything like ships. Why? Where are they? What are the reasons we hadn&rsquot found them?&rdquo Georgieva asked. &ldquoThe last four years was a really big step. in how we investigate the submerged landscapes and shipwrecks.&rdquo
The fact that remarkably preserved ships can be found here is due to a unique aquatic phenomenon, explained famed deep-sea explorer Dr Bob Ballard.
The last four years was a really big step in how we investigate the submerged landscapes and shipwrecks
Ballard, the American oceanographer best known internationally as the man who led the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, has had a decades-long fascination with the so-called &ldquoanoxic sea&rdquo below the Black Sea: a cold, dead, oxygenless layer blanketed underneath the warm opal waters familiar to visitors.
&ldquoI was interested in the anoxia: when I found the Titanic, and we went inside, and saw high states of preservation &ndash the deep sea is a giant museum,&rdquo said Ballard in a phone interview from his home in the US state of Rhode Island. As only a few types of bacteria survive in the Black Sea&rsquos anoxic layer, this stasis is strongest here &ndash potentially mummifying human remains and preserving the moments after a disaster in &ldquomint condition&rdquo for millennia.
Between 1999 and 2014, Ballard led an expedition to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean that was the first to comprehensively explore this shadow realm. With his crew, he discovered dozens of perfectly preserved vessels, including an Ottoman trading ship that contained human remains.
&ldquoIt was a good 15-year effort of mounting multiple expeditions, trying to show that the [ancient mariners were] much bolder than historians were giving them credit for &ndash that they pursued direct deep-water trade routes, trying to show that they did not hug the coastline, but chose to go across open ocean.&rdquo
But both Georgieva and Ballard said deep-sea exploration provides new clues in another, perhaps even greater, mystery.
In the bestselling 2000 book Noah's Flood by William Ryan and Walter Pitman, marine geologists believed they had found the historical origin of the legends of a great flood that tore through ancient civilisations bordering the Mediterranean and Black Sea 7,600 years ago. Earlier told in the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, and in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the story has become best known across the world in the form told in the biblical story of Noah&rsquos Ark.
According to Ryan and Pitman, about 20,000 ago, what is now the Black Sea was cut off from the Mediterranean by a mountainous landscape.
The Noah&rsquos Flood theory claimed that as Earth&rsquos last ice age ended, melting polar ice caps caused the Mediterranean waters to rise, which pushed a channel through the mountains to form what is now the Bosporus, resulting in a catastrophic seawater deluge 200 times stronger than Niagara Falls. In months, it estimated, the Black Sea inundated a land mass the size of Ireland, flooding a mile a day.
I think you&rsquore going to see the Black Sea yielding a lot of additional chapters of human history now we know where to look
Ballard, in 2000, hoped to shed light on Ryan and Pitman&rsquos theory, when he discovered the pre-flood shoreline, and buildings from human civilisations that lived along it, 12 miles off the Turkish Black Sea coast. He believed these findings would back up the flood hypothesis.
But Black Sea MAP points in a different direction, explained Georgieva. &ldquoThe geophysicists and other specialists from the oceanographic centre in Southampton, say there&rsquos no evidence to support this theory,&rdquo she said. &ldquoWhat we collected doesn&rsquot prove this catastrophic flood. Data shows a more likely gradual sea level rising.&rdquo
With more data to be analysed, it supports the idea that the waters rose unnoticeably, by metres over centuries, even millennia.
Still, Ballard calls The Black Sea a &ldquomagical place&rdquo, an area with &ldquoan amazing amount of history&rdquo, which has more to offer archaeologists and fans of historical legend than the Noah&rsquos Flood connection. &ldquoThe Black Sea has that [the biblical connection] it&rsquos also were Jason and the Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece,&rdquo he added. &ldquoThere&rsquos so much more to be discovered in the Black Sea. I think you&rsquore going to see the Black Sea yielding a lot of additional chapters of human history now we know where to look and how to look.&rdquo
For locals and visitors, the excitement being revealed offshore does not feel far away.
Bulgaria hosts a richness of archaeological history from Roman, Greek and other ancient societies, the likes of which tourists often seek out in Mediterranean neighbours, Italy and Greece. But here, findings are being unearthed in an accelerated process, especially since 2007 when funding started arriving with Bulgaria&rsquos accession to the European Union.
Nessebar sits on a stretch of coast slightly more than 100km by car from the Bulgarian city of Varna in the north, and nearly 70km from the peninsula of Sozopol in the south, where dense history is laying the foundations for an emerging Bulgarian archaeological trail.
In 2012, nearby Solnitsata, labelled Europe's oldest prehistoric town (albeit controversially) by its discoverers, joined already discovered marvels to the north of Nessebar such as the Varna Necropolis, the oldest gold treasure in the world dating from around 4,500BC, many years before the pyramids of Egypt.
While the Black Sea MAP discoveries are too deep for tourists to visit, scuba diving excursions head down to Nessebar&rsquos original defensive walls from the time of the Thracians, and battleships from World War One and World War Two, as well as the airplane of former Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, which was deliberately sunk in Varna Bay in 2011 to spawn an artificial reef.
To get a sense of what is out at sea, Georgieva recommends that divers visit what she calls the &ldquoopen museum&rdquo of Nessebar&rsquos fortifications, the exposed walls visible on the short walk around the edge of the island, along with similar ruins in Sozopol.
But the discoveries made by the Black Sea MAP team are also being brought up into the light, and are currently on show in Lost Worlds, an exhibition touring Bulgaria where visitors can explore a digital recreation of the 2,400-year-old shipwreck and 3D printed models made from scans of it while wearing virtual reality headsets.
Sunken Civilisation is a BBC Travel series that explores mythical underwater worlds that seem too fantastical to exist today but are astonishingly real.
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World’s oldest intact shipwreck discovered as Greek ‘Odysseus’ vessel dating back 2,400 years is found at bottom of Black Sea
THE oldest ever intact shipwreck dating back 2,400 years has been discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea.
The ancient Greek trading ship was found whole, bow to stern, with even its mast, rudders and rowing benches almost perfectly preserved.
The ship looks almost identical to a vessel shown on a vase in the British Museum depicting Greek hero Odysseus' voyage home from the Trojan war.
Scientists at the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project determined the 75 foot vessel was consigned to Davy Jones’ Locker more than 2,400 years ago.
It was found in what has been described as a “shipwreck graveyard” where over 60 other sunken ships have been discovered.
The ship was found in 2017 by a remote controlled submarine piloted by Brit scientists but has just been confirmed as the “oldest intact shipwreck”.
It has the design of an Ancient Greek trading vessel design previously only seen on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the “Siren Vase” in the British Museum.
The ship is over 1.3 miles deep on the bed of the Black Sea where the water is oxygen free, around 50 miles off the coast of Bulgaria.
This “anoxic” water can preserve organic material for millennia and a small piece of the vessel has been carbon dated to 400BC.
It revealed the accuracy of the painter of the Siren Vase who painted an almost identical vessel onto the pottery.
Jon Adams, professor of archaeology at the University of Southampton and chief scientist of the team that found the wreck, told The Times: “Nobody has ever known how accurate the representation on the Siren Vase was and whether the artist was making it up or drawing what he saw.
“Now we see archaeological evidence showing a ship very close in detail, even down to the shape of the rudder blade.
“The artist must have been familiar with ships.”
Prior to this discovery ancient ships had only been found in fragments with the oldest more than 3,000 years old.
The team from the Black Sea Maritime Archaeological Project said the find also revealed how far from the shore ancient Greek traders could travel.
Archaeologist believes it probably held 15-25 men at the time whose remains may be hidden in the surrounding sediment or eaten by bacteria.
He said he plans to leave the ship on the seabed because raising it would be hugely expensive and require taking some of the joints apart.
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The ship, which was powered by both sails and oars was mainly used for trade but could have occasionally played a role in battle, raiding coastal cities.
The find is one of 67 wrecks found in the area.
Previous finds were discovered dating back as far as 2,500 years, including galleys from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
GREEK MYTHOLOGY How the discovery gives us a glimpse into the myths and legends of Ancient Greece
THE ship looks almost identical to the ship depicted on the side of the so called ‘Siren Vase’ housed in the British Museum.
The design on the ancient property depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, one of the oldest and most famous stories in history.
It details the tale of Odysseus and his ten year journey back from fighting in the Trojan War.
On the epic voyage he encounters numerous mythological figures including a Cyclops, gods and goddesses and even a visit to the underworld.
But one of the most famous scenes, as depicted on the vase, involves the eponymous hero ordering his crew to lash him to lash him to the mast and block his ears to resist the “Siren’s call”
Sirens were dangerous creatures who would lure sailors to shipwreck on the rock coasts with their enchanting songs.
Ancient Greece Money
The main participants in Greek commerce were the class of traders known as emperor. The state collected a duty on their cargo, which in Athens’ port Piraeus was set between 1% and 2%. By the end of the 5th century, the tax had been raised to 33 talents (Andocides, I, 133-134).
In 413, Athens ended the collection of tribute from the Delian League and imposed a 5% duty on all the ports of her empire (Thucydides, VII, 28, 4) in the unrealized hope of increasing revenues. These duties were never protectionist but were merely intended to raise money for the public treasury.
Greek Ships for Kids
Greek ships were about 115 feet long. That's about the same size as three school buses lined up in a row.
Some ships were designed to carry cargo. Others were designed as weapons. The Greeks added a layer of brass to the tip of their warships to make their ships work effectively as a battering ram when needed. Greek ships, whatever their purpose, were powered by sails and oarsmen. They were built to turn briskly and move rapidly through the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Before ships left harbor, Greek sailors prayed to the sea god Poseidon to keep them safe.
The Greeks used their ships to trade with other Greek city-states, as well as other civilizations around the Mediterranean. In times of war, their specially designed ships, along with well trained oarsmen and strong sails, helped them to defeat their enemies in sea battles. Athens, by far, had the best navy of all of the ancient Greek city-states. Their ability to fight well at sea was critical to their victory in their war with Persian.
Greek Trading Ship That Sank 2,400 Years Ago Found Intact
Archaeologists believe they have found the world's oldest intact shipwreck. Discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea, the 75-foot-long vessel has been lying in wait for more than 2,400 years.
"It's something I would never have believed possible."
Assumed to be a Greek trading vessel, the ship was so well preserved because it was buried deep in the Black Sea in anoxic (oxygen-deprived) water. Without oxygen corroding the wooden hull, the ship has remained more or less the same since it sank around 400 BCE. Researchers are stunned that its rowing benches, rudders, and mast are all intact.
&ldquoA ship, surviving intact, from the Classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,&rdquo said University of Southampton Professor Jon Adams, the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project&rsquos principal investigator, in a press statement. &ldquoThis will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.&rdquo
The ship's design tipped off researchers to its ancient origin. The build is one only previously seen in Greek pottery like the famed "Siren's Vase," currently located in the British Museum. Carbon dating has confirmed the ship's age.
The Black Sea MAP project has found more than 60 shipwrecks in the region, ranging from 17th century Cossack raiders to Roman trading ships. Currently in its fourth year, the project greatly added to the depth and understanding of ancient maritime life. Organizers plan to screen a two-hour documentary about this latest find at the British Museum.
The History of Ships: Ancient Maritime World
The ships we come across nowadays are large, sturdy and self propelled vessels which are used to transport cargo across seas and oceans. This was not the case centuries ago, and the current ship has undergone countless centuries of development to become what it is today.
In ancient marine times, people used rafts, logs of bamboo, bundles of reeds, air filled animal skins and asphalt covered baskets to traverse small water bodies. To be precise, the first boat was a simple frame of sticks lashed together and covered expertly with sewn hides. These boats could carry large and heavy loads easily. You get to know about examples of such ancient boats among the bull boats of North American plains, the kayaks of the Inuit’s and the coracks of British islanders. Yet another ancient boat was the dugout which is a log that is hollowed out and pointed at the ends. Some of these were even as long as sixty feet. Here is a brief attempt to traverse lightly over the history of ships and how they evolved to what they are now.
The Usage of Poles and Invention of Oar
Ancient marine history makes for quite an interesting study of the strength and survival instincts of humanity at large. For instance, in ancient times, the simple oar was not in use. Instead people used their hands to paddle along in their tiny boats. They moved rafts by pushing poles against the bottom of the rivers. Slowly, using creative instincts and ingenuity, man learnt to redesign the poles by flattening them and widening it at one end, and thus the paddle was designed to be used in deeper waters. Later on, it was again ingeniously transformed to become the oar-a-paddle that is fixed on the sides of boats.
Invention of Sails
The invention of the sail was the greatest turning point in maritime history. The sails replaced the action of human muscles and sail boats could embark on longer trips with heavier loads. Earlier vessels used square sails that were best suited for sailing down wind. Fore and aft sails were devised later.
Egyptians take the credit for developing advanced sailing cargo ships. These were made by lashing together and sewing small pieces of wood. These cargo ships were used to transport great columns of stone for monument building.
Phoenicians and their Contribution
History of ships is never complete without mentioning the Phoenicians. They deserve special mention since it is highly probable that they were the pioneers of the wooden sailing vessels that were to sail the high seas centuries later. The Phoenicians fashioned out galleys from the earlier dugouts with sails and oars providing power. As the galleys grew larger, according to specifications and requirements, rowers were arranged at two levels.
These were called the biremes by the Greeks and Romans. They also built triremes that are galleys with three banks of oars.
Types of Ships in Ancient Maritime History
As marine history and along with it, the history of ships unfolds it draws images of intrigue and amazement at the expert and diligent craftsmanship of the ancient mariners. The medieval ships were clinker built, which refers to the clenching of nail -on technique used for securing planks. The clinker design was adapted from the earlier skin boats which had to be over lapped to make it water tight.
The Irish, in the medieval ages were in possession of more advanced vessels like the Irish curragh. These had wooden frames and a hide covered wicker hull it is speculated that these ancient ships were fitted with removable masts rigged using primitive sails.
By 1000 AD, the famed Viking Long ship was permitted a travel into the Mediterranean. These ships were wider and had a more advanced mast stepping design.
By 800 AD an alternative form of the north European ship design, the hulk came into vogue. The Utrecht ship is an example of the hulk. Its planks are flush, butted end to end and tapered in order to draw up at the sides and at the bow and stern.
Improvements in Marine Vessels
Ships continued to develop as overseas trade became increasingly more important. By late 1100’s a straight stern post was added to ships to facilitate the hanging rudder. This aspect improved greatly the handling characteristics of a ship. The rudder permitted larger ships to be designed. It also allowed for ships with increasingly higher free boards to be built.
As years passed, in order to avoid risk of water damage, cargo was transported in large gallon barrels called tuns. The crew could now sleep on big leather bags on deck the passenger space was termed “steerage” and this term is still in use today to refer to passenger accommodation of minimal facilities.
The British relied heavily on the nef, a term used for ships. At this point of time, ship design took a different turn – the first distinctive feature was the plank on frame construction. This allowed for much larger ships to be built. With more ships at sea, trade occurred from nearly all ports and there arose a need for a ship that could sail from anywhere to anywhere.
The carrack was designed and she was truly one of the tall ships. It has its origin in Genoa and sports the design of three Mediterranean vessels set to sail north through the Atlantic trade in the Bat of Biscay. The carrack was almost exclusively built of carvel, a type of construction that had its uses in both skin and frame built ships. In this design, the planks are fitted edge to edge rather than overlapping. In fact the carrack was the first to use the full skeletal design with planking framed on ribs the entire way to the keel.
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Oars and sails
The earliest historical evidence of boats is found in Egypt during the 4th millennium bce . A culture nearly completely riparian, Egypt was narrowly aligned along the Nile, totally supported by it, and served by transport on its uninterruptedly navigable surface below the First Cataract (at modern-day Aswān). There are representations of Egyptian boats used to carry obelisks on the Nile from Upper Egypt that were as long as 300 feet (100 metres), longer than any warship constructed in the era of wooden ships.
The Egyptian boats commonly featured sails as well as oars. Because they were confined to the Nile and depended on winds in a narrow channel, recourse to rowing was essential. This became true of most navigation when the Egyptians began to venture out onto the shallow waters of the Mediterranean and Red seas. Most early Nile boats had a single square sail as well as one level, or row, of oarsmen. Quickly, several levels came into use, as it was difficult to maneuver very elongated boats in the open sea. The later Roman two-level bireme and three-level trireme were most common, but sometimes more than a dozen banks of oars were used to propel the largest boats.
Navigation on the sea began among Egyptians as early as the 3rd millennium bce . Voyages to Crete were among the earliest, followed by voyages guided by landmark navigation to Phoenicia and, later, using the early canal that tied the Nile to the Red Sea, by trading journeys sailing down the eastern coast of Africa. According to the 5th-century- bce Greek historian Herodotus, the king of Egypt about 600 bce dispatched a fleet from a Red Sea port that returned to Egypt via the Mediterranean after a journey of more than two years. Cretan and Phoenician voyagers gave greater attention to the specialization of ships for trade.
The basic functions of the warship and cargo ship determined their design. Because fighting ships required speed, adequate space for substantial numbers of fighting men, and the ability to maneuver at any time in any direction, long, narrow rowed ships became the standard for naval warfare. In contrast, because trading ships sought to carry as much tonnage of goods as possible with as small a crew as practicable, the trading vessel became as round a ship as might navigate with facility. The trading vessel required increased freeboard (height between the waterline and upper deck level), as the swell in the larger seas could fairly easily swamp the low-sided galleys propelled by oarsmen. As rowed galleys became higher-sided and featured additional banks of oarsmen, it was discovered that the height of ships caused new problems. Long oars were awkward and quickly lost the force of their sweep. Thus, once kings and traders began to perceive the need for specialized ships, ship design became an important undertaking.