Archaeologists Discover World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck at Bottom of Black Sea

October 23, 2018 Updated: October 23, 2018

Marine archaeologists have discovered what they say is the world’s oldest intact shipwreck, at 2,400 years old, in the Black Sea.

The ship was found at a depth of two kilometers (about 1.25 miles), using state-of-the-art technology previously only available to oil, gas, and renewable-energy companies.

The ship is designed in the style of an ancient Greek trading vessel known only from ancient artworks, until now.

It has been officially radiocarbon-dated to 400 B.C., after being first discovered by the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea MAP) last year, according to a statement on Oct. 23.

“A ship, surviving intact, from the classical world, lying in over two kilometers of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said University of Southampton professor Jon Adams, the Black Sea MAP’s principal investigator in a statement.

Over 60 Shipwrecks Found

“This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world,” Adams said.

According to the statement from the University of Southampton in the UK, one of the organizations behind the Anglo-Bulgarian expedition, the vessel design was “previously only seen on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the “Siren Vase” in the British Museum.”

The “Siren Vase” depicts the moment that Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s classic, is strapped to the vessel’s mast as it takes him past the sirens who would lure him to his death. That vase has been dated to 480 B.C.

Greek vase depicting ship
Ancient Greek ships decorate this highly glazed pottery cup or crater, in this file image, circa 1959. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The three-year project mapped more than 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of seafloor.

They found over 60 shipwrecks, varying in age from a 17th century Cossack raiding fleet to the Greek trading vessel, as well as Roman trading vessels complete with amphorae—the iconic Roman vases.

The Greek-style ship was first identified in 2017, off the coast of Bulgaria. The team later took a small piece to be carbon dated by the University of Southampton, which “confirmed [it] as the oldest intact shipwreck known to mankind.”

Preserved by Lack of Oxygen

The ship was able to survive intact for more than 2,000 years because of a lack of oxygen in the water where it lay. The Black Sea is the largest body of water in the world with a meromictic basin—meaning deep waters don’t mix with the upper layers that get oxygen from the atmosphere.

The Black Sea is a 700-mile-wide body of water on the eastern fringes of Europe, bordered by Romania and Bulgaria in the east, Turkey in the south, and Ukraine and Russia in the north.

The only access to the sea is a narrow strait that runs through the city of Istanbul before eventually leading to the Aegean Sea.

The Black Sea has risen and fallen as civilizations have waxed and waned.

The team of scientists also excavated the remains of an early Bronze Age settlement at Ropotamo in Bulgaria, near what was the ancient shoreline.

“As the waters rose, the settlement was abandoned and now the remains of house timbers, hearths, and ceramics lie 2.5 meters below the seabed,” said the statement by Black Sea MAP.

A documentary on the project was due to be shown at the British Museum on Oct. 23, coinciding with the announcement.

Follow Simon on Twitter: @SPVeazey
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