Black Sea Submarine Archaeology: History and Present-Day Successes

NW 17:33:31 16-08-2019

Black Sea Submarine Archaeology:
History and Present-Day

Varna, on the Black Sea, August 16 (BTA) - Submarine archaeology in Bulgaria is marking its 60th anniversary this year. Assoc. Prof. Preslav Peev, head of the Marine Geology and Archaeology Department of the Varna-based Institute of Oceanology with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, talked to BTA.

The first expedition near Cape Kaliakra in August 1959 sought, but failed to discover, traces of a 1791 battle between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

A few months later interesting artefacts were found at Cape Maslen Nos.

Submarine archaeology was very successful in the 1960s and 1970s when hundreds of artefacts were discovered along the Bulgarian coast at depths ranging between 2 and 30 metres, Peev said. Almost all types of submarine finds have been reported in Bulgaria: prehistoric settlements, parts of ancient settlements, residential districts, fortifications and ships. Few whole vessels have been found.

Still, the Institute has discovered several ancient ships, the oldest of which dates from the late 2nd to the early 3rd century AD. The discovery of several amphorae in one place pointed to the location of the sunken ship, and remnants of wels catfish in one of them led to the conclusion that the cargo was processed fish, most likely caught in one of the big rivers in the Northwestern Black Sea area.

Merchant vessels also carried grain, wine, hides, metals and olive oil. A historical source mentions caviar export from today's Pomorie (on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast) to Constantinople. A cargo of walrus tusks, some of them engraved, was also found.

While most ships steered close to the shore, some ancient sailors were more daring and crossed the open sea, judging from wrecks found between Turkey and Crimea. Also, the cargo of a vessel sunken at Cape Cherni Nos was sourced from North Africa.

Scientists say that the level of the Black Sea was about 10 metres lower than it is now during the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age. Lake Varna did not exist in its present form until some 7,000 years ago when a sandspit formed, separating the lake from the bay. The same process shaped the other lakes along the shore.

As to sunken settlements, Peev said they were not hit by a cataclysm. The level of the Global Ocean in general, and the Black Sea in particular, has been rising gradually. The latter rises by 2.8 to 3 millimetres a year.

Working with Romania, the Institute of Oceanology has designed four attractive cultural routes. One of them features sunken ships and artificial reefs near Tyulenovo and Sozopol. Another route focuses on the sunken merchant routes of Bizone (today's Kavarna), Dionysopolis (Balchik), Odessos (Varna), Cape Saint Atanas (Byala), Mesembria (Nessebar) and Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol). A third project includes a rock formation near Tyulenovo, the cliff caves near Cape Kaliakra, the underwater stone forest near Sozopol and the Varvara underwater canyon. Tourists less keen on underwater adventures can visit museums exhibiting the marine archaeologists' finds.

Peev stressed that modern technology has opened up new possibilities for submarine exploration, for instance, by helping archaeologists locate finds at great depths. Wooden vessels are well preserved in the anoxic zone of the Black Sea, which acts like a natural conservation lab since there are no microorganisms to break down organic matter. The Institute's mini-submersible also helps archaeologists.