Greece guards sunken treasures

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Category: News

Posted by on 05 Feb 2003

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Aikaterini Dellaporta, director of the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Underwater Antiquities, recently divulged the existence of thousands of ancient shipwrecks in the waters of Greece, which have not yet been explored. Refusing to give details, she exclaimed that if a map were to be created of all the ancient shipwrecks that have been located electronically, there would be immense diving restrictions in a lot of areas. Greece is already facing a problem, with many divers making diving trips to locate ancient artifacts, which are then sold in the black market.

The Government has taken several measures to ensure that the problem does not escalate, they offer huge rewards to people who discover ancient artifacts and deliver them to the authorities. Also, treasure hunting is illegal in Greece and diving is allowed only along 500 kilometers of the total 1500 kilometers of coastline. Scuba diving centers have been specifically set up in these areas to keep a control over the activity. Most of the discoveries have been made by local fishermen or sponge divers, and the authorities are trying to gain an upper hand in the matter. 

With the black market proving to be a significant threat, the government is taking as many measures as possible to not let Greek artifacts fall in to wrong hands. Archaeologists have already mapped over 1,000 ancient shipwrecks as well as ancient cities, which have sunk into the sea due to massive earthquakes. The oldest recorded shipwreck is near Dokos, an island located in the Gulf of Argos, it has been dated back to 2200 BC and is an exceptional find.

With the recent improvement in technology and equipment used by the authorities, most of the finds are pretty recent. Today archaeologists can explore up to 40 meters into the sea, and have successfully identified locations of most of the wrecks, findings which have been aided by the latest sonar technology as well many hi-tech deep sea diving vessels. One of these vessels is the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, or AUV, which has been developed in collaboration with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of technology), which has improved the rate of discovery of deep sea shipwrecks immensely.

But most of the discoveries are still being made by fishermen, who find a lot of these artifacts lodged in their nets. One such discovery was near the island of Kalymnos, in 1995, when fishermen found an ancient Greek statue of a female in their fishing net, and received the highest paid reward of 440,000 Euros for it. Another significant discovery was in 2001, when a fisherman, off the island of Astypalea, made a startling and significant discovery of around 50,000 silver plated copper coins, dated back to the 3rd century, which due to the pressure of the sea, had been welded together. The fisherman dove down nearly 35 meters, or 115 feet to reach the treasure, and he promptly handed it over to the authorities, for which he received 350,000 euros.

Further information by the fisherman led to the discovery of four shipwrecks in that area, which contained some startling artifacts. One of the wrecks revealed a lead sarcophagus, which contained the remains of a Roman officer, who is believed to have died somewhere in the Middle East. Another shipwreck, found here revealed a large collection of clay pots, which seemed to be every day household items, and happens to be the first record of household items used by the Romans.

These are not the only significant finds that have been made in the recent past. Another shipwreck, found near the island of Kos, contained exquisite amphorae and jugs which contained wine and oil, and was probably a ship transporting it to another island. The shipwreck has been dated to the third century. The Dodecanese islands has been a significant source of shipwrecks, with the discovery of around 12, which can be dated to the period between 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD.

All these shipwrecks are a source of not just immense amounts of knowledge, but also very expensive artifacts, a fact which is causing trouble for the authorities. With many illegal treasure hunting trips being made, and a lot of discoveries being made by locals, many items are crossing into other countries and even international auction houses, who do not know the identity of anonymous donors. The thriving black market for Roman and Renaissance objects, found from these wrecks, is leading to the loss of many valuable objects, which otherwise could have contributed immensely to our knowledge of that period and could have been shared with the entire world. Whether Greece can make the most of the sunken treasures she sits on, only time will tell.


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