An “archaeologist’s paradise” has been found underwater south of Athens, Greece: an ancient city dating back to around 2500 BC.
In Greece, diving is strictly controlled in order to prevent the looting of underwater sites. In 2014, team from the University of Geneva was training on Lambayanna Beach while waiting for official authorization when they made a discovery: Nearby, there were pottery fragments and what appeared to be architectural elements.
The team was unable to explore further due to their limitations, but were finally able to return in 2015. Using the world’s largest solar-powered ship, PlanetSolar, as a base, they journeyed down to where the fragments had been seen—and made one of the biggest finds of the classical world: an ancient Greek fortified village.
“The importance of our discovery is partly due to the large size of the establishment: at least 1.2 hectares [nearly 130,000 square feet, or 10 football fields] were preserved,” Professor Julien Beck of the University of Geneva told Spero News.
The quality and quantity of artifacts also add to the importance, according to Beck—over 6,000 have been found. Obsidian blades dating created from volcanic rock on Milos (the island on which the Venus de Milo was found) and dating back to the Helladic period (ca. 3200 to 2050 BCE) were among the discoveries, along with the aforementioned pottery fragments, which dated back to about 2500 BCE.
Further, the town itself is unique, as it features an outer fortification wall with three 60 by 30-foot horseshoe-shaped foundations attached. These structure were thought to belong to defensive towers of a “massive nature, unknown in Greece until now,” said Beck. “The chances of finding such walls under water are extremely low.”
The walls themselves are contemporaneous with the Pyramids of Giza and two civilizations that predated the first Greek ones, the Minoan (2700 to 2000 BCE) and the Cycladic (3200 to 2000 BCE). The first great Greek civilization, the Mycenaean, didn’t arrive for another millennium.
The buildings found in this city are characteristic of the Greek Early Bronze Age: They’re circular or elliptical in shape, and are built on a rectangular plane. Paved surfaces were also found, which could either be streets or the remains of other structures.
So what went on there?
“The full size of the facility is not yet known,” said Beck. “We do not know why it is surrounded by fortifications.” However, the team has a few guesses.
The Bronze Age in Greece was mostly a society of farmers, but there is evidence of some technological advances in regards to metallurgy and mining. Further, there seems to have been a kind of market economy that emerged along the coast of the Peloponnesus, and the city easily could have served as a storage area for trade goods.
As to why it sank, the team did not offer any theories, but the usual ideas of rising sea levels and shifting tectonic plates have been suggested. Further, it is probably not the lost city of Atlantis—which is only mentioned by Plato, and was in all likelihood made up by him to prove a point.
Feature image: Hellenic Ministry of Culture