Archaeologists from Britain's University of Nottingham and Greece's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture are using digital equipment to unlock the mystery behind the ancient Greek town of Pavlopetri, thought to be the oldest submerged town in the world. Discovered and mapped by researchers of the Institute of Oceanography at Cambridge University in 1968, no other work has since been conducted at the site. This project could fuel underwater archaeology in the future.
The ruins of Pavlopetri, which lie in three to four metres of water just off the coast of Laconia in the Peloponnese, date from at least 2 800 BC. Buildings are still intact, and streets, courtyards, and chamber tombs exist as well. Experts believe the ruins belong to the Mycenaean period (circa 1680-1180 BC).
Dr Jon Henderson from the Underwater Archaeology Research Centre (UARC) at the University of Nottingham is the first archaeologist in 40 years to obtain special permission from the Greek Government to examine the submerged town. This project will help shed light on how the town was developed, when it was occupied, what it was used for, and why it disappeared under the sea.
'This site is of rare international archaeological importance. It is imperative that the fragile remains of this town are accurately recorded and preserved before they are lost forever,' explained Dr Henderson. 'A fundamental aim is to raise awareness of the importance of the site and ensure that it is ethically managed and presented to the public in a way which is sustainable and of benefit to both the development of tourism and the local community.'
The submerged buildings, courtyards, streets, tombs and graves are located close to an area frequented by tourists and campers. The researchers assert that both tourism and industry are having a negative impact on the ruins; tourists looking for souvenirs can be found snorkelling in the area, and boats cause damage as their anchors are dragged along the seabed.
Dr Henderson and his team, working together with Mr Elias Spondylis of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, are using equipment initially developed for the military and offshore oilfield market. Experts believe the equipment could transform underwater archaeological survey and recording.
The researchers will perform a millimetre-accurate digital underwater survey of the area using an acoustic scanner developed by a North American offshore engineering company. The equipment is able to generate photo-realistic, three-dimensional (3D) surveys of seabed features and underwater structures to sub-millimetre accuracy very quickly.
'The ability to survey submerged structures, from shipwrecks to sunken cities, quickly, accurately and more importantly, cost effectively, is a major obstacle to the future development of underwater archaeology,' Dr Henderson pointed out. 'I believe we now have a technique which effectively solves this problem.'
Dr Nicholas Flemming, the man who discovered the site in 1967, is on board. His team from Cambridge surveyed the area with hand tapes in 1968. Dr Chrysanthi Gallou of the University of Nottingham is currently carrying out a systematic assessment of the finds recovered back then.
The archaeologists will finish their full underwater survey by the end of June.