One of the largest ever maritime archaeology projects ever undertaken came to an end today (19 September), after a three-year expedition that uncovered more than 60 ancient shipwrecks, the oldest of which was 2,500 years old.
The Black Sea MAP initiative set out with the intention of investigating the changes in the ancient environment of the Black Sea region, including the impact of sea level changes during the last glacial cycle. However, the scientists, to their surprise stumbled across a host of sunken vessels while using underwater robots to survey the Bulgarian coastline.
Many of the ships – which can be traced to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilisations – were perfectly preserved.
The Black Sea, as its name suggests, contains almost no light or oxygen and very little life survives there, meaning the organisms that usually break down wood in water are not present. This has left the wrecks in excellent condition, many with masts still standing, rudders in place and various fittings and cargo still on deck.
On one 2,000-year-old Roman vessel, the researchers even found a well-preserved piece of rope, while some of the ships have only ever been seen before in ancient murals or mosaics.
All of the artefacts that were found by the team have been 3-D printed using one of the most detailed 3-D printers in the world.
"This assemblage must comprise one of the finest underwater museums of ships and seafaring in the world," said Professor Jon Adams from the University of Southampton, who led the expedition.
"Black Sea MAP now draws towards the end of its third season, acquiring more than 1300km of survey so far, recovering another 100m of sediment core samples and discovering over 20 new wreck sites, some dating to the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods," he continued.
From the data and materials that the team have gathered, the nature of change in the ancient environments can be reconstructed. This will allow researchers to better understand the effects that these processes had on human populations living in the region at the time.
The team were followed on their journey by Bafta-winning filmmakers David Belton and Andy Byatt who documented the series of discoveries, as well as the highs and lows of the voyage.
"I think we have all been blown away by the remarkable finds that Jon Adams and his team have made. The quality of the footage revealing this hidden world is absolutely unique," Byatt said.