A 5,000-Year-Old Underwater Town Is Discovered in Greece
Archaeologists excavating the world’s oldest submerged city have discovered Neolithic-era ceramics. Pavlopetri, off the southern coast of Laconia in Greece, was inhabited approximately 5,000 years ago, at least 1,200 years earlier than previously believed.
The Greek government has made these astonishing discoveries public following the launch of a five-year cooperation initiative between the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and The University of Nottingham.
As a Mycenaean settlement, the site may provide new insights on the Mycenaean social order. The significance of Pavlopetri is enhanced by the fact that it was a port city whose inhabitants coordinated local and long-distance trade.
The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project tries to determine precisely when the site was inhabited, what it was used for, and how the town got buried by a rigorous examination of the area’s geomorphology.
This summer, the team conducted a comprehensive digital underwater survey and investigation of the structural remains, which until this year were believed to date back to the Mycenaean period, between 1600 and 1000 B.C.
The survey exceeded their highest hopes. Their searches uncovered an additional 150 square meters of new structures, as well as ceramics indicating that the site was inhabited throughout the Bronze Age, from at least 2800 B.C. to 1100 B.C.
Mr. Elias Spondylis, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Greece, and Dr. Jon Henderson, an underwater archaeologist from the Department of Archaeology at The University of Nottingham, are leading a multidisciplinary team in carrying out the study.
Dr. Jon Henderson remarked, “This site is exceptional in that practically the whole town plan, including the main roadways and residential buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs, and what appear to be religious structures, are plainly visible on the seafloor.” Equally, as a Bronze Age port settlement, the study of the excavated archaeological artifacts will be immensely valuable in illuminating how maritime trade was conducted and controlled.”
The discovery of what may be a megaron, a massive rectangular great hall from the Early Bronze Age, is one of the most significant finds. In addition, they have unearthed almost 150 meters of new structures, including what may be the first pillar crypt ever discovered on the Greek mainland. Alongside what looks to be a Middle Bronze Age pithos burial, two new stone-built cist tombs were also uncovered.
Mr. Spondylis stated, “It is a unique discovery that is remarkable because, being a submerged site, it was never re-inhabited and thus marks a frozen moment in history.”
Dr. Chrysanthi Gallou, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Nottingham, is a specialist in the prehistory of the Aegean and the archaeology of Laconia.
Dr. Gallou stated, “The new ceramic finds represent a comprehensive and extraordinary corpus of pottery from the end of the Neolithic period (mid-4th millennium BC) to the end of the Late Bronze Age” (1100 BC).
In addition, the local community in Laconia has shown tremendous interest.
The investigation at Pavlopetri provides them with an excellent opportunity to participate actively in the preservation and maintenance of the site, and consequently in the cultural and tourism development of the surrounding region.”
Dr. Nicholas Flemming, a marine geo-archaeologist from the University of Southampton’s Institute of Oceanography, who discovered the site in 1967 and returned the following year with a team from Cambridge University to conduct the first-ever survey of the submerged city, joined the team.
Using just snorkels and measuring tapes, they drew a precise map of the prehistoric settlement, which included at least 15 distinct structures, courtyards, streets, two-chamber tombs, and at least 37 cist graves.
Despite Pavlopetri’s potential worldwide significance, no additional work was conducted at the site until this year.
The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project began its five-year research of the site with a permit from the British School of Archaeology in Athens in order to define the history and evolution of Pavlopetri.