Top 10 Underwater Archaeology Sites

DFN: Atlantis off of Havana? See #5.

Top 10 Underwater Archaeology Sites Around the World
Submitted by Sean Williams on Wed, 11/25/2009 – 11:17

Underwater archaeology may still be in its relative infancy, but that hasn’t stopped it making some of the world’s biggest recent discoveries. From Cleopatra to ancient plonk, there’s plenty more under the sea than a load of old shipwrecks – though they can be pretty spectacular too. Even Egyptological legend Zahi Hawass is getting a piece of the action, scouring the Nile for ancient treasure. So we thought we’d strike while the iron’s wet and bring you a top ten of the world’s underwater archaeology sites. If you think we’re talking rot, or if there’s anywhere we’ve missed, don’t hesitate to have your say either via the comments box below, our contact page or by emailing me direct. Happy snorkelling!

1. Alexandria, Egypt

Pretty much all of Alexandria’s been connected with an Egyptian or Greek legend at some point, including the ongoing quest for Cleopatra’s tomb by Zahi Hawass and Dominican expert Kathleen Martinez. Some claim the tomb is at suburb Taposiris Magna, others think it’s buried under the sands of its harbour. Others say it’s not there at all.

Large square building foundations at Pavlopetri. – Image credit Jon Henderson
What is known about the city is that there’s still a sizeable chunk of its famous Pharos, or lighthouse, both in the sea and on land. Great lumps of its masonry went into making Sultan Quaitbay’s 15th century fortress, and you can still see parts of it languishing underwater on specially organised digs.

2. Pavlopetri, Greece

Easily weighing is as one of the world’s most important underwater sites, Pavlopetri, off the southern Laconian coast of Greece, is the world’s oldest submerged town, having been inhabited up to 5,000 years ago. The Mycenaean town was once a throbbing trade centre, with modern researchers discovering roads, houses, burial sites and the remains of a megaron: a large rectangular building which may have been a Neolithic marketplace. In a time when an area’s locals don’t always get the best from archaeology, Pavlopetri has been a revelation with its modern neighbours, who have been keen to get involved in learning their ancient past.

3. Ventotene, Italy

The tiny island of Ventotene, off the west coast of central Italy, may not seen the obvious candidate for a dramatic archaeological breakthrough. But this June it became the centre of the ancient world, when the Aurora Trust stumbled on five Roman shipwrecks, each with its own invaluable stash of artefacts.

The island was once a safehaven for ships seeking refuge in stormy seas – but it appears some never made it. Among the quintent’s cargo were fish sauce, mortars, and no shortage of ancient wine. There’s no word on whether the team got their hands on any 2,000-year-old plonk (the term ‘vintage’ doesn’t quite seem enough), but celebrations must have been worth some.

4. Phlegraean Fields, Italy

The Campi Flegrei are well known in Italy, where they occupy a spot just west of Naples in a 13km-wide caldera. In fact it’s probably the world’s most active underwater site, with up to 24 diving locations and an official underwater archaeological park. It also boasts no small historical importance: it was the first Greek colony on the Italian mainland, and a Flavian amphitheatre is one of its showcase attractions. Other significant sites are Portus Julius, the Pisonian Villa, Protiro Villa and the fields’ fish pools.

5. Havana, Cuba

Anyone for Atlantis theories? Plato’s legendary city might not be off the coast of Cuba (it’s probably not off the coast of anywhere), but the small central American island, more famous for revolutions and cigars, is the location for one of the world’s most intriguing underwater projects. Experts from a host of institutions are investigating megalithic ruins in the Yucatan Channel. Some say the results could show the oldest pre-Columbian civilization in the region. Only computer mapping has been carried out so far, but watch this space…

6. Aswan, Egypt

The Nile has reclaimed much of Aswan’s ancient Egyptian treasures since the building of the Aswan High Dam in the middle of the last century. Abu Simbel temple was even moved to make way for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s giant construction. But now, thanks to technology, Aswan’s hidden artefacts are beginning to poke their heads above water – under the watchful eye of SCA chief Zahi Hawass. Check out our great video to see how Aswan’s underwater back yard is proving one of Egypt’s hottest, and wettest, archaeological sites right now.

7. North Sea, between Britain and continental Europe

Another one for the not-so-distant future, this. The North Sea may now be a 600-mile stretch of water separating Britain from The Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia, but 60,000 years ago it was once a frozen roadway, populated by Neanderthals searching for new lands. That’s why, six months ago, a Swedish team found a Neanderthal skull to accompany the myriad prehistoric mammal remains that get caught up in fishing nets each day. The Natural History Museum’s Chris Stringer says the area could have massive repercussions for Britain’s own human heritage: "This specimen might indeed be the kind of Neanderthal that was crossing into Norfolk around that time. It will help us understand our British sequence when we can much more precisely map what’s under the North Sea."

8. Solent Strait, Britain

This site is in its relative infancy, but could hold the key to understanding Britain’s Neolithic past. Hidden in an underwater cliff at Bouldner, off the Isle of Wight on the country’s south coast, lies an 8,000-year-old structure, which has left Garry Momber, director of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, "in shock". Yet Mr Momber might be feeling another emotion if the settlement is swept away. Funding is needed fast for the site to survive.

9. Cape Greco, Cyprus

Another one for the wine-lovers out there. Cape Greco, off the east coast of Cyprus, is where, 1,800 years ago, a Roman ship carrying a cargo of 130 amphorae of wine met a tragic end. Olive oil is another possible shipment found at the site (the wine can’t be that good, then), and some of the wine had even come from France.

Ever found an ancient seaport on your holidays? Image by Mladen Zagarčanin
Possibly the most interesting aspect of the haul is that it included artefacts that lend a careful insight into the daily lives of sailors in the Roman Empire, such as storage and cooking items. Remote sensing work is due, and may find even more fascinating objects buried beneath the seabed.

10. Maljevik, Montenegro

It’s every budding Jacques Cousteau’s dream: 16-year-old Michael Le Quesne was snorkelling near the Montenegrin city of Bar earlier this November when he spotted something out of place in the azure Adriatic Sea. Sure enough, what at first looked like odd lumps of rock turned out to be ancient fluted columns, part of what experts think could be an important Graeco-Roman port.

Only time will tell whether young Michael’s endeavours make any more headlines. Southampton University boffins are poring over his discoveries as we speak: if it turns out to be the real deal, Michael could end up being our underwater archaeology hero of 2009!


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