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Oldest Black Sea shipwreck found
January 16, 2003
CNN Europe

Written by Ann Kellan
Posted by HW on January 24, 2020

Oldest ever
It"s the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Black Sea with relics from between the third and fifth centuries B.C. containing clues to the diet of ancient Greeks.

Explorer Bob Ballard - best known for finding the remains of the Titanic - announced the discovery this week in the United States.

A team headed by Ballard, working with the Bulgarian government, discovered the wreck in August.

First look
"This discovery provides historians with the first look at an actual wreck from a key era of trade in the Black Sea known previously only through written records," said Ballard, president of the Institute of Exploration at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut and a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

The wooden ship itself was gone, having rotted away through the millennia. But its scattered contents remained on the sea floor in testament to the ship"s sinking.

Dwight Coleman, chief scientist on the expedition, said three Bulgarian team members in a submarine spotted the wreck on August 1, the final day of the expedition.

The Bulgarian government supplied the submarine that located and retrieved some of the artifacts.

"The Bulgarians reported up to the ship"s control room that they were seeing amphorae (large containers used to store wine or olive oil) down there, and when I heard the translation, I got really excited," Coleman said. "I knew they"d be ancient."

By analysing the contents of one of the amphorae, scientists were able to pin down the approximate time frame in which the vessel sank.

Fish bones
The clue came in the surprise find of bones of freshwater catfish in one of the containers.

Researchers said the bones were butchered and indicate the fish had been filleted like modern fish steaks and preserved in salt.

They believe this was not a delicacy but a common, well-preserved food that may have fed the Greek army and the general population.

Going south
Archaeologist Fred Hiebert of the University of Pennsylvania analysed one of the amphorae and said he thought the ship was headed for the Mediterranean, where dried fish steaks - called tarichos in ancient Greece - were a common food for the masses.

The amphora"s design is characteristic of artwork found in Sinop, Turkey, he said.

Hiebert said he believes the ship may have started its voyage in Turkey and stocked up on fish in Crimea, southern Ukraine, as it headed north.

His theory is that the ship was on its way to Greece when it sank off the Bulgarian coast.

"The Black Sea was a vibrant crossroads of trade that was cut off from the world at the end of the Ottoman period, early last century," Hiebert said.

"Since then, the Black Sea has been rather mysterious and difficult to study because of global politics. We"re finally getting a chance to piece together what happened there over many centuries."

Ballard, who has been studying the Black Sea since 1997, previously found evidence of settlements off Turkey in shallow areas that were once above sea level.

Some have suggested the rising sea levels that swamped these settlements may have given birth to the great flood stories in many cultures of the region.

More to come
Ballard said he plans to return to this and three other shipwreck sites in the Black Sea next summer and expects the latest finds will not be the oldest Black Sea artifacts for long.

"It is the oldest ship found in the Black Sea, but there is evidence of earlier sailing there. It"s only time until an older shipwreck is found," Hiebert said.
Ballard, Robert (M) Scientist
Hiebert, Fredrik (M) Scientist
Related topic(s):
November 3, 2000 [ABC News]
Shipwreck Chemistry
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