Exploring depths of the Sporades

An international collaboration between six Greek archaeologists from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities (EUA) and five American archaeologists and oceanographic specialists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, has recently completed a high-tech remote-sensing survey in the Sporades Islands region of the western Aegean and has brought to light the remains of a circa 1,000-year-old shipwreck. The collaborative project took place between September 24 and October 6, 2010, according to a statement released on November 2 by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The study area encompassed the islands of Alonissos, Peristera and Kyra Panaghia, with particular focus on the Alonissos-Peristera channel. Aided by sophisticated marine technology ? including an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with side-scan sonar and a high-resolution digital video camera, never before used in archaeological research ? the Greek-American team was able to cover an area of some 8 square kilometers at depths ranging from 40 to 85 meters.

Traditional scuba-diving methods were also employed but the AUV in combination with newly developed underwater boosters (Pegasus Thrusters) allowed the investigators to travel further, in less time and greatly increase their survey area. The AUV provides bathymetric and other undersea topographical data through both echo sounding and optical recording.

Among the team?s discoveries was the wreck of a medium-sized ship located about 100 meters off the north coast of Kyra Panaghia, dating from the Middle Byzantine era (ca. 9th-11th centuries AD). The site consists primarily of a concentration of broken transport amphorae lying on a steeply descending, rocky slope at depths of 17 to 42 meters below sea level. The wreck was documented photographically and one of the cargo?s few intact amphorae ? found buried in the sand at the shallow end of the site ? was lifted for analysis. Five iron anchors of typical Middle Byzantine design were also uncovered. A photo mosaic of the submerged site is now being prepared. In addition, organic residues preserved inside the recovered amphora will be tested to identify its former contents at the Biological Laboratory of Lund University in Sweden.

In collaborating with international colleagues and employing state-of-the-art marine research equipment, it seems Greek underwater archaeologists are expanding their survey capabilities, exceeding the limits of traditional survey techniques and making greater strides toward understanding and documenting Greece?s rich underwater heritage. The collaborative project will continue next year, although the exact study area remains to be determined.