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2,400-Year-Old Greek Trading Vessel Discovered in the Black Sea

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The world's oldest intact wreck is in remarkable condition for a wooden vessel (Photo: Black Sea MAP)

The world's oldest intact shipwreck, a 2,400-year-old Greek trading vessel, has been found at the bottom of the Black Sea.

The finding is particularly remarkable as the vessel is constructed entirely of wood, which tends not to survive for great lengths of time underwater. The waters of the Black Sea are anoxic at depth, meaning there is little oxygen to support the life that would otherwise consume the organic material of the ship's remains.

The discovery of the 23m-long wreck is the latest in a series of findings by the Anglo-Bulgarian Black Sea Maritime Archaeological Project (MAP).  Lying at a depth of around 2,000m, the team used two ROVs to map the ship using 3D photogrammetry, and took samples to carbon date the wood, confirming its age. 

'A ship, surviving intact, from the Classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,' said Black Sea MAP’s principal investigator, Professor Jon Adams of Southampton University. 'This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.'

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The 'Siren Vase' as depicted here on a Greek postage stamp (Photo: dimitri_k/Shutterstock)

The shape of the wreck matches that of depictions found on classical Greek pottery. It is thought that the vessel had a crew of 25 and would have been powered both by oars and sail. The benches and rudder remain intact and the masts are still standing. Vessels such as this would have often carried amphorae containing wine and oil along with other products, but as the hold also remains intact, the ship's cargo is unknown at this time.

The Black Sea MAP began in 2015 to investigate the changes in the ancient environment off the coast of Bulgaria, including the impact of sea-level change following the last glacial cycle. To date, the Black Sea MAP has discovered the remains of 67 different wrecks, from 17th century Cossack trading ships to Roman trading ships. 

In addition to the discovery of the shipwrecks, the scientists excavated the remains of an early Bronze Age settlement at Ropotamo in Bulgaria, near what was the ancient shoreline when the sea level was much lower than today. As the waters rose, the settlement was abandoned and now the remains of house timbers, hearths and ceramics lie 2.5 metres below the seabed.

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