There have been many depictions of the familiar story of Odysseus and the Sirens. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus (or Ulysses), following the advice of the sorcerer Circe, stopped his crew’s ears with beeswax so they’d be deaf to the sweet song of the Sirens, creatures half-woman and half-bird who lured sailors to destruction. He himself wanted to hear the song, but he had the crew tie him to the mast so he could not steer the ship off its course.
One such detailed depiction can be seen on the red-figure vase below, dated c. 475 B.C.
Amazingly, a ship which looks just like the one on the vase has been found by archaeologists using a ROV (remote operated vehicle) at the bottom of the Black Sea, off the Bulgarian coast.
The 23-meter vessel is thought to be a Greek merchant ship dating back more than 2.400 years. It is being hailed as officially the world’s oldest known intact shipwreck. The rudder, rowing benches and even the contents of its hold have been preservedbecause at that depth the Black Sea water is anoxic, or free of oxygen. Lying more than 2,000m below the surface, it is also beyond the reach of modern divers.
The Anglo-Bulgarian team that discovered it used two underwater robotic explorers to map out a 3-D image of the ship and they took a sample to carbon-date its age. The vessel is thought to be one of many trading between the Mediterranean and Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast. As yet the ship’s cargo remains unknown and the team say they need more funding if they are to return to the site.
“A ship surviving intact from the classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said Professor Jon Adams, the principal investigator with the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP), the team that made the find. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”
Described as the most extensive underwater archaeology exploration to date, the Black Sea MAP (Maritime Archaeology Project) not only discovered or rediscovered a total of 67 shipwrecks from the Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Modern Era found on the bottom of the Black Sea in Bulgaria’s section, but it also explored the once flooded coast with its submerged prehistoric settlements, and even offered insights into the hypothesis that the Black Sea was the site of the Biblical Deluge.
Yesterday’s post was getting a bit long, so today I will do a follow-up on the new Acropolis Museum. The video below offers a virtual tour, where you can get a fair idea of the treasures on offer: the glass floor at the entrance through which you can see the ruins of the ancient city beneath your feet; the airy space allowing you to walk all around the statues; the Caryatids in all their glory; and the beautiful top floor mirroring the Parthenon where the marbles are exhibited.
The museum has a café and restaurant with a stunning view on the Acropolis. The food uses products and recipes from all over Greece and is served by smiling and kid-friendly staff. Go on their site for more information here. (Plan a trip to Athens! Totally worth it.)
For those interested in the campaign for reunification of the marbles, below is another short video, where you can also meet Professor Padermalis.
Chryssanthi Papadopoulou can conceivably be described as a sort of treasure hunter. Every summer, she dons scuba gear and explores archaeological sites at the bottom of the sea. Archaeology is a job uniquely suited to the Greek environment: wherever you excavate, you are likely to find something. During digging work for the Athens Metro, more than 50.000 findings came to light! Sounds like an ideal life? As you will see, things are never that simple.
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Chryssanthi and I am an archaeologist. I am from Athens, which is also where I currently live and work. I love my job; it is one of the things that keep me happy. I conduct fieldwork in the summer and research in the winter. Both aspects of the job are rewarding in different ways. For the last ten years I have been excavating underwater sites: primarily shipwrecks, but also sunken land structures. The break that the sea offers from reality is rewarding enough to get me through the winters – literally and metaphorically. Needless to say that Greece is an archaeological paradise.
What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?
A little over five years ago, I returned to Greece after having spent 5 years living on and off in the UK. At the time it seemed like a good idea to “come home” – at least temporarily. It took me over 2 years to re-adjust to Greek reality. I still have not managed to fully come to terms with Greece. Nevertheless, I have gradually fitted in again. I often feel that I made a mistake returning “home”. This is a thought that I simply cannot shake off and in a sense, this doubt is an omnipresent difficulty for me these last 5 years.
Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?
In Athens we have 17 foreign Schools of Archaeology. It was the foreign schools that have always been my haven; a buzzing international community of junior and senior scholars constantly on the move for the purposes of their field-projects and research. Being a member of this community reassures me that Greece too can be multicultural and that perhaps it is not such a bad place to live after all.
What are your hopes/plans for the future?
I have no long-term plans. I am still considering the possibility of going abroad. The UK continues to feel a lot like home and I miss it still.
What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?
I hope for the financial crisis to pass. I realize that this sounds naïve and oversimplified. Nevertheless, after everything that’s been said and done in the last six years, I no longer know how to make this sound factual and realistic. I am unclear as to what really needs to be done and even more unclear as to whose benefit this will be for. This is one of the worse predicaments that our governments have imposed on us: not knowing with any degree of certainty what to wish for any more… Saying that, what I hope to see are reason, factual explanations, tangible solutions, and (alas!) intelligent politicians.
Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?
Yes, I admitted to considering this before. The UK continues to feel partly like home. In the case of a Brexit, though, I can no longer go there that easily.
If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?
Intelligent ideas, solutions and individuals make me want to hang around. Provided that Greece chooses to invest in these, I am up for staying and helping out whichever way I can.
Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?
I have sunk into a state of passivity. I feel too numb to move. As a result, I am of very little help to anyone including myself. I suppose the one thing that I have never done is evade taxes. Consequently, in a way I am helping with the situation. What I need the most is to be able to see a way out of this. However long this way may be, as long as it is discernible, it is a viable destination. One can at least feel that one is heading towards something.
How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?
This is way too difficult a question. Not even Pythia (the Oracle of Delphi) would have had an answer to this. In antiquity the manteis (seers) were commonly blind. Their sense of sight was the sacrifice they were forced to make in order to gain divine foresight. I find myself in the paradoxical situation where I have been stripped of my sense of sight without having been offered anything in exchange. I simply cannot see down the line.
How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?
I do my best to keep frustrations and negativity away from the dinner table. We have our evening ritual at home when we cook something delicious and take a long time to dine (Italian-style). At the dinner table we share only the positive encounters and incidents of our day, and crack as many jokes as we can. Wine always helps.
What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?
Summer is coming. This they have not managed to interfere with yet! Summer in Greece is one of the international stereotypes for fun. I make the most of it and it lifts my spirits.
Greece is a small country that has seen many brilliant civilizations. Layer upon layer, everywhere you dig, you come upon remnants of one or more of them. Each square foot of earth can hide a treasure.
Despite the lack of funds and personnel, archaeological digs are going on all over Greece. Archaeologists, architects, restorers, and marble artisans are aided by student volunteers from all over the world. Armed with spatulas, brushes, scrapers, sieves, and even dental equipment for delicate jobs, but mostly armed with patience and perseverance, they have toiled all summer under the blazing sun to bring to light artifacts and constructions from Classical Antiquity through the Byzantine years and up to modern times.
Now, more than ever, they have to rely on personal connections as well as local artisans and businesses to be able to overcome financial obstacles and continue with their projects.
The most important of these excavations is the ancient Amphipolistomb, whose discovery in 2014 in Casta Hill, northern Greece, set the archaeological world on fire. It is still not known who is buried in the grave that dates to the era of Alexander the Great, around 300 B.C. Five human skeletons were found in the grave, statues of two headless and wingless sphinxes, caryatids and an impressive mosaic of Persephone being carried to Hades.
But there are other interesting sites around Greece:
The ruins of a Mycenean palace have been discovered on a 140-hectare site near Sparta. The impressive buildings, built around a large central courtyard and decorated with wall paintings, belong to the second complex to have been erected on the site, since the first appears to have been destroyed by fire around the 15 th or 14th century BC. A large number of clay tablets, bearing writing of the Linear B form, have been preserved – thanks to being baked by another, more recent, fire. They constitute the palace archives and are a precious source of information about the Mycenean religion and language, as well as the social, economic and administrative structures of the area. A multitude of objects and artifacts have also been found, such as cooking utensils, bronze swords, and seals. In Crete, on Psiloritis mountain, excavations are gradually revealing the luxury and grandeur of the Minoan palace of Zominthos.
In the Cyclades, on the tiny uninhabited island of Despotiko, west of Antiparos, there existed the largest sacred sanctuary after Delos. Many fragments of marble statues and pots have recently come to light.
In Pella, an impressive marble statue was discovered of a bearded man, clad in an animal skin and boots.
On the island of Astypalaia, 5.000-year-old rock drawings have been discovered. They depict boats with oars and fish designs on their prows. They are proof that the Cycladic civilization was very widespread.
On the headland of Molyvoti, an ancient walled city is being excavated, possibly Strymi, which was mentioned by Herodotus. A lot of ceramic pots, urns, jewels, amulets and coins have been found.
And there are also underwater digs. In the sea near the island of Kythira, archeologists are investigating the wreck of the Mentor, Lord Elgin’s ship, which sank after crashing into rocks while carrying 16 boxes of antiquities.