Innumerable wrecks in Greek seas

At the conference, Ballard urged Greeks to «guard your wrecks.» All the foreign participants agreed that Greece’s coastal archaeology was on an equal par with anywhere else – even at the levels of equipment, technology and methodology. Katerina Delaporta, head of the ephorate, talked to Kathimerini about achievements in the past five years, which include 25 wrecks discovered within the framework of cooperation with the Hellenic Center for Marine Research. Ten of these are Roman, four are Byzantine, three are from the Late Classical period, and seven are from the 19th century. Just one dates from the post-Byzantine period. «Every exploration with the Aegaio oceanographic research vessel lasts two weeks. We map the country’s maritime regions and groups of islands, which we try to cover completely,» she said. The first stop was the island of Kalymnos, the other Dodecanese islands and then Halkidiki. The work is difficult, time-consuming and expensive to do using conventional exploration methods, but with the aid of technology, mapping, retrieval of samples and photography was completed quickly. The area around the island of Astypalaia was explored using a combination of traditional methods and technology. (Most foreign researchers use remote-controlled equipment.) The findings included a sarcophagus holding the wages (50,000 coins) of a Roman army. In the strait between Inousses and Chios, undamaged commercial amphorae were found at a depth of 70 meters. «It is rare these days to find an ancient wreck that has not been tampered with,» said Delaporta. The ephorate has created a database of ancient wrecks, with statistical analyses, the number of wrecks and their categories. A major problem is how to preserve these findings. Delaporta said there are robots that act as underwater «guards,» linked to satellites. Surprisingly, these are not as expensive as they sound. «The ephorate could develop such a network in cooperation with another state organization, such as the Merchant Marine Ministry and the navy,» she said. Greece’s seabed is rocky and irregular, and its legal status is another factor. «All these issues should be examined by the relevant authorities, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and even the Agriculture Ministry, which is responsible for fishing zones,» said Delaporta. The greatest hazards to underwater archaeology are the antiquities smugglers, illegal diving in general and fishing boats. Ballard talked about creating underwater museums, but the question is whether Greek legislation permits this. «There are ways to highlight wrecks in innovative ways, but this comes at a later stage. First you have to explore and know your subject very well, find ways to protect it and then present it to the public,» explained Delaporta. In 2002, the Ephorate of Marine Antiquities proposed that a museum, or even an exhibition space, be set up to house findings and multimedia. Delaporta says that a great deal could be done, either at one of the Olympic venues or even in an old factory in a neglected area, such as Drapetsona, giving it a much-needed boost.