A recent maritime archaeology excavation of the Black Sea has yielded results experts could only ever dream of. Beginning in 2015, and taking place over 3 separate seasons, the aquatic survey recovered relics to add to the archaeological record which finally support evidence of ancient warships seen previously only in art and evidenced in inscriptions. The artefact haul from the 60 wrecks – dating from 5th Century BC – will be substantial, taking many years to fully retrieve and catalogue.
Art Today’s exclusive source gave us the full story:-
In 2015, The Black Sea MAP, one of the largest maritime archaeological projects ever staged, set out to investigate the changes in the ancient environment of the Black Sea region – including the impact of sea level change following the last glacial cycle.
Chief Investigator, Professor Jon Adams (University of Southampton) stated: ‘This assemblage must comprise one of the finest underwater museums of ships and seafaring in the world.’.
The team returned from their last tour on 19th September, glowing with insider knowledge of the significance of their discovery, and the anticipation of the world’s imminent reaction to it. Bringing with them the first of the preserved amphorae and other ancient artefacts, the cream of the crop of world-renowned maritime scientists held their breath over the news that was about to break…
Once at shore, Professor Jon Adams commented on their initial findings:-
‘We dived on one wreck, a merchant vessel of the Byzantine period dating to the 10th Century. It lies at a depth of 93m – that puts it into the diving range – so we took the opportunity to visually inspect certain structural features first hand. The condition of this wreck below the sediment is staggering, the structural timber looks as good as new. This suggested far older wrecks must exist and indeed even in the few days since the dive we have discovered three wrecks considerably older, including one from the Hellenistic period and another that may be older still.’.
Encouraged to expand their survey, they delved further into the depths…
The earliest ship found so far is from the Classical period around the 4th/5th Century BC. Vessels have also been discovered from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods spanning 2.5 millennia. This represents an unbroken pattern of trade and exchange, warfare and communication that reaches back into prehistory, and because of the anoxic conditions of the Black Sea (the lack of oxygen) below a certain depth, some of the wrecks survive in incredible condition.
Ships lie hundreds or thousands of metres deep with their masts still standing, rudders in place, cargoes of amphorae and ship’s fittings lying on deck, with carvings and tool marks as distinct as the day they were made by the shipwrights. Many of the ships show structural features, fittings and equipment that are only known from iconography or written description but never seen until now.
Dr Kalin Dimitrov, Director of the Centre of Underwater Archaeology in Sozopol said:-
‘During the third season of the Black Sea MAP we continued filling in the blanks of the mosaic of ancient seafaring with the discovery and documentation of outstandingly well preserved ships. The vessels represent the Roman and Byzantine periods, and the time of ancient Greek colonization. The discovered shipwrecks will undoubtedly rewrite the history of ancient shipbuilding.’.
The Black Sea MAP project was conceived by Hans K Rausing who established the Expedition and Education Foundation to commission the project. The Foundation’s work was funded by The Julia and Hans Rausing Trust, a charitable fund, reflecting their interest in improving our understanding of the origins of humanity and human civilization in the region.
For 3 years, Bafta-winning documentary filmmakers, David Belton and Andy Byatt, documented the extraordinary discoveries of each voyage to the Black Sea. The team collected extraordinary underwater footage of the wrecks as well as the highs and lows of the expeditions, to provide international audiences with unique and entertaining insight.
For Andy Byatt, a key producer of the David Attenborough BBC series, ‘Blue Planet’, it has been a highly rewarding experience: ‘I think we have all been blown away by the remarkable finds that Jon Adams and his team have made. The quality of the footage revealing this hidden world is absolutely unique.’.
The expedition’s STEM Scholar programme recruited 16 less-advantaged students in 2016 and 2017 from schools in the UK to take part in educational programmes both on and offshore. Following the training week, students were selected to either join the research vessel during its 3rd field season in the Black Sea, or to carry out onshore-based projects at the University of Southampton. The onshore team carried out their own research projects with geophysical and coring data gathered during the 2nd field season. The on-board team developed education and careers resources linked to the Black Sea MAP. They worked alongside the range of teams collaborating on-board the research vessel ‘Havila Subsea’, as well as working with the vessel crew to understand more about the way a vessel operates at sea. This hands-on experience provided an engaging and exciting context for science and technology learning.
History Meets Technology:-
Ancient landscapes and prehistoric settlements lost to rising seas, were revealed by underwater excavation, remote sensing and geological sampling. The Black Sea MAP team completed its final phase of fieldwork having excavated the remains of an early Bronze Age settlement at Ropotamo (Bulgaria), near the ancient shoreline where the sea level was much lower than today earlier in the year. As the waters rose the settlement was abandoned and now the remains of house timbers, hearths and ceramics lie 2.5m below the seabed. The valley in which the village had lain now became a sheltered bay visited by Archaic Greek colonists, followed by a harbour for early Byzantine seafarers, and finally an anchorage used by the Ottomans.
Via our exclusive source, Art Today will give continuous updates on the survey’s progress in wreck and artefact analysis and recording. We wish the Black Sea MAP team the very best of luck in their retrieval of such a historically-important hoard of evidence.
[Credits: Feature Photo – ‘Screen shot of the 2000 year old Roman wreck in 2000m of water. The port side quarter rudder with its tiller still attached’ (Photo Johan Rönnby, Black Sea MAP); Black Sea MAP Newsdesk; EEF Expeditions Ltd; blackseamap.com]