A shipwreck lover’s dream has been discovered in the azure waters of the Black Sea: around 60 wrecks, from the Byzantine era to the 19th century, revealing 2,500 years of maritime history.
Described as a “ship graveyard” due to the sheer numbers, the plethora of ships found is not only incredible but some of them are in astonishingly good shape too.
The three-year project, Black Sea MAP, from the University of Southampton’s Centre for Maritime Archeology and funded by the EEF, is one of the largest marine archeological projects ever staged, and to begin with it wasn’t even searching for ships.
Researchers set out to complete geophysical surveys of the Black Sea to study the effects of climate change and how it had changed the environment along the Bulgarian coast. However, they found a whole lot more in this submerged world.
The earliest ship they found dates to the 4-5th century, and they go right through the Roman Empire, 10th-century Byzantine, and the Ottoman Empire, covering a period of 2,500 years and offering fascinating insight into seafaring routes and traditions.
Researchers have called the discovery “unrivaled”, the ships’ locations revealing ancient patterns of trade, warfare, and communication as well as confirming structural ship design and features that could only have been guessed at or glimpsed in drawings before now.
‘‘We have never seen anything like this before,” said Dr Kroum Batchvarov, from the University of Connecticut, in an emailed statement. “This is history in the making unfolding before us.”
The researchers used remotely operated vehicles (ROV) with high-resolution 3D cameras as well as high-def cameras, a laser scanner, lights, and geophysical equipment to survey the seabed.
Luckily, below around 150 meters (492 feet), the Black Sea is anoxic, meaning the organisms that usually feast on anything organic cannot survive because there is little light or oxygen, so many of the ships are in surprisingly excellent condition.
“There's one medieval trading vessel where the towers on the bow and stern are pretty much still there,” Ed Parker, CEO of Black Sea MAP, said. “It's as if you are looking at a ship in a movie, with ropes still on the deck and carvings in the wood."
Despite the excitement garnered by such a find, the team is keeping the locations of the ships secret to protect them while they study them. It wasn’t that long ago that the earliest human skeleton in the Americas was discovered by amateur divers, only for them to put it on social media and by the time excited scientists turned up it had been stolen.
Luckily, these researchers had a television crew, one who has previously worked on the BBC's incredible David Attenborough-led Blue Planet, follow them through the three-year project. The incredible findings will be coming to a TV near you soon.