Ancient Greece: 2,500-year-old Shipwreck With Stone Pyramid Anchors Discovered Off Greek Island Near Possible Long Lost Port

Marine archaeologists have uncovered five shipwrecks in the waters off the Greek island of Kasos—the southernmost in the Aegean Sea (part of the eastern Mediterranean)—dating from several different historical periods, according to officials.

In addition, researchers have also found evidence for what could potentially be an ancient port facility, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports said.

Most notable among the wrecks, the researchers say, is one vessel from the late classical period that features five stone, pyramid-shaped anchors.

The marine archaeologists discovered several types of amphorae—characteristic pottery jugs produced by the Greeks and Romans—in addition to fine ceramics. Examination of these items enabled the team to date the shipwreck to the end of the fourth or beginning of the third century B.C.

The other four shipwrecks include one from the first century B.C. and another from the Byzantine period—dating between the eighth and tenth century B.C.—also contained amphorae.

The two remaining wrecks are much younger, dating to the period following the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829)—a conflict fought to rid Greece of Ottoman Empire rule. The researchers say that the later of these two vessels was found to contain building materials.

stone pyramid anchor
A stone pyramid anchor found at the site of the shipwreck. F. Kvalo

The shipwrecks were identified over the course of 67 dives conducted in 2019 by the Kasos Maritime Archaeological Project—a joint venture of the Greek Institute of Historical Research at the National Hellenic Research Foundation and the Ministry of Culture's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. In total, divers spent more than 100 hours surveying the seabed during the research.

The ministry says that this is the first time that underwater archaeological research has been conducted in the waters around Kasos. The current research program is set continue until the 2021 with the aim of identifying more antiquities.

"Kasos is a relatively small and isolated island of the Dodecanese, part of the connecting routes between Egypt and Constantinople which has never been been the focus of underwater archaeological research before," director of the research Xanthie Argyri told Newsweek. "The available historical and archaeological evidence is scarce, although they clearly suggest Kasos' role within a network of maritime routes through time but also the importance of its maritime activity from antiquity until the 20th century."

Aside from the shipwrecks, the archaeologists also uncovered identified several other individual items during their dives, including iron canons and anchors from the Byzantine period.

According to Argyri, the potential harbour that they found during the dives is located at the small island of Armathia.

"We have located underwater two rubble mound constructions that were probably used to lengthen some natural features of the seabed," Argyri said. "We believe that these mounds formed the two opposite breakwaters of a harbour. Within the 'basin' of the harbour we recovered material that indicates that its use ranges from the Hellenistic to the Ottoman period. However, further work is needed—both archaeological and geological—in order to fully evaluate the area and reach some firm conclusions."

Ancient Greek shipwreck
One of the Ancient Greek shipwrecks. C. Hoye

The Aegean Sea—and the Mediterranean in general—is a hotbed for shipwreck finds. Last year, a team of underwater archaeologists, including Koutsouflakis, announced they had discovered at least 58 shipwrecks across a small area in what may be the largest concentration of sunken ancient vessels in the region, Reuters reported.

The ships were found in the waters off the Greek Fournoi archipelago, located in the eastern Aegean. Like the latest find, the wrecks span a long historical period, ranging from ancient times to the 20th century.

Aside from shipwrecks, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports announced another intriguing finding in the region just last week. Researchers discovered several buildings filled with purple shells on the tiny uninhabited Greek island of Chrysi—which lies just to the south of Crete.

The buildings once formed part of a Minoan settlement and the purple shells indicate that Mediterranean purple dye was once produced in the area. The high quality objects found in the dwellings suggest that the settlement had a flourishing economy in ancient times.

The Minoan Civilization flourished on Crete and other islands in the Aegean Sea from around 3,000 B.C. to 1,100 B.C. It is considered by many to be the birthplace of "high culture" in Europe, bringing numerous cultural and artistic achievements.

This article was updated to include additional comments from Xanthie Argyri.

This article was corrected to make it clear that the dives were a collaboration between the Greek Institute of Historical Research at the National Hellenic Research Foundation and the Ministry of Culture's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.