Mile-Deep Ancient Roman Shipwrecks Discovered Off Greece

Published Nov 19, 2012 2:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

Greek experts have discovered two Roman-era shipwrecks in deep water off a western Greek island, challenging the theory that ancient shipmasters stuck to safe, coastal routes rather than traveling the open sea. The third-century wrecks were found earlier this month during a survey of an area where a Greek-Italian gas pipeline is to be sunk. They lay between 0.7-0.9 miles deep in the sea between Corfu and Italy, says Greece’s culture ministry.

These recently exposed ships are now among the deepest known ancient wrecks in the Mediterranean. Experts say that sunken ancient ships are generally located at about 100-130 feet deep. It is popular belief that early traders were reluctant to go too far offshore, unlike warships which were freed by ballast and cargo. The smaller vessels did not have the capacity to navigate far from the coast, so that if there was a wreck they would be close enough to the coast to save the crew.

A Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution representative has stated that a series of ancient shipwrecks located far from land over the past decade or so has forced experts to reconsider the coast-hugging theory. In fact, these latest finds are crucial hard evidence showing the actual patterns of ancient seafaring and commerce. According to a CBS News report, in many cases — as when winds threatened to push ships onto rocks — ancient mariners made a conscious effort to avoid coastal waters.

These remains were located during an investigation that covered 77 square miles of seabed off the islands of Corfu and Paxoi. A Greek oceanographic vessel using side-scan radar and robot submarines took footage of scattered cargo including storage jars, cooking utensils for the crew, anchors, and ballast stones. The team also raised samples of pottery and a marble vase. One vessel was carrying North African products, leading experts to believe it might have sailed from there and headed for Greece after a stop in Italy.

Deep wrecks are very important from a marine archaeology standpoint because they are almost always more intact than those found in shallow water, so they contain far more archaeological and historical information than other sites.

This discovery also comes during Greece's severe financial crisis, which has taken a toll on funding for archaeology.

Photo credits: Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Greece) - http://www.culture.gr/