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Divers Uncover Treasure In Ancient Ship Graveyard

Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities - B. Mentogiannis / G. Koutsouflakis

Archaeologists from Greece and the United States have joined forces for a very unique treasure hunt.

Like other projects, researchers are digging through rubble and dirt for artifacts, but their work begins at least 60 feet underwater.

The object of their years-long search are wrecked ships, which crashed by the dozens in the straits around the Fourni island chain.

And the reason for all the interest in these ships is the artifacts they still carry.

The Ships' Graveyard

Shipwreck artifacts
Almost 60 wrecked ships lie in the waters around Fourni.Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities / B. Mentogiannis

Since archaeologists began searching the Fourni islands for ships in 2015, they have uncovered 58 wrecks.

They say that two ancient trade routes once cross paths in waters surrounding the 13 small island, and the heavy traffic is one explanation for all the ruined ships.

Ships carried goods like wine and food around Fourni from as far away as the Black Sea, Spain, and Egypt, but an unlucky few  ended their journey 130 feet below the waves.

Fourni islands
Dangerous conditions (and pirates) may have caused so many ships to crash.Karelj - Wikimedia

"It is not a coincidence that a large number of the wrecks have been found in those passages," George Koutsouflakis, one of the dive's leaders, told Reuters.

"If there is a sudden change in the wind’s direction, and if the captain was from another area and was not familiar with the peculiarities of the local climate, he could easily end up losing control of the ship and falling upon the rocks."

Other researchers say the large volume of ships probably attracted pirates, who could be responsible for a few of the sunken ships.

Whatever the cause, shipwrecks were once so common around Fourni that two of the small islands are still named Anthropofas, meaning "man-eater."

Designer Lamps And Other Treasures

Amphorae jars
Amphorae, ceramic jars used to hold food and liquid, are the most common antiques of Fourni's ships.Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities / B. Mentogiannis

Of the five ships most recently discovered and explored by the archaeologists, the oldest date back to the fourth century B.C., while others are from the sixth century A.D.

Even "modern" ships from the 18th and 19th century were discovered under the waves.

While these ships are newly discovered, the divers say there is evidence their cargo has already been looted - or salvaged - long ago.

Of the more than 300 artifacts brought to the surface from these ships, a group of designer lamps might be the most fascinating.

ancient lamp
These ancient lamps are stamped with their designer's names.Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities / G. Koutsouflakis

The ceramics from Corinth are stamped on the bottom with the names of their designers, Octavius and Lucius.

Experts from Greece's Culture Ministry have reason to believe that the pair may have been slave workers, who eventually won their freedom and opened a workshop.

Mainly, archaeologists find ceramic jars called amphorae used to carry food and liquids inside the wrecked ships.

Archaeologists ancient Greece
Researchers hope a museum will collect the Fourni artifacts.Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities / G. Koutsouflakis

While old fish sauce may not sound so exciting to you, learning more about the trade routes that connected the ancient world is a big deal for these researchers.

"The excitement is difficult to describe," Dr. Pete Campbell said.

"I mean, it was just incredible. We knew that we had stumbled upon something that was going to change the history books."

There are hopes to build a new museum for the Fourni artifacts, so people from around the world will get to learn more about them.

[H/T: Reuters]

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