Underwater Research in Palekastro Bay, East Crete

A recent underwater survey in east Crete discovered a Roman-era shipwreck and the submerged remains of buildings dating back to the Minoan Bronze Age.


The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports has recently announced the successful completion of the first season of a three-year archaeological research project in the Bay of Palekastro, northeast Crete.

The project, a collaboration between the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the University of Toronto, the Lasithi Ephorate of Antiquities, and the British School at Athens, aims to explore the coastline and wider landscape of Palekastro Bay for clues about its use in antiquity and its role in past trade routes.

The Lasithi region of eastern Crete is home to a dense and well-studied concentration of archaeological sites, including the Minoan settlements of Roussolakkos and Palekastro and their associated peak sanctuaries – sites of religious activity – dating back to the mid-second millennium BC.

The region became an active hub in the Mediterranean-wide trade of purple dye during the Hellenistic period (323-30 BC), the coastal city of Itanos, mentioned in the Histories of Herodotus, becoming hugely wealthy in the process.

The most recent study, completed in August, focussed on the coastal zone in search of archaeological remains submerged by rising sea levels and land subsidence. The team used a mix of underwater survey techniques to pinpoint and record sites of interest, as well as aerial photographs to create highly-detailed maps of the coastal landscape.

Over the course of the inaugural survey, the team made a series of startling discoveries, including the scattered remains of Minoan buildings,  large fragments of ceramic storage jars (pithoi), and a Roman-era shipwreck from the 2nd century AD.

Other finds included a sunken Roman breakwater, used in the construction of an ancient port in the northern part of the bay.

Roman shipwreck

Perhaps the most important discovery this year was the hitherto unknown settlement of the bay area during the Roman period. In the northern part of Chiona Bay, the team found evidence of walls, broken construction materials, floor slabs, and building foundations, all pointing to the site of an extensive coastal settlement during the first centuries AD.

The discovery of the Roman-era shipwreck, its well-preserved cargo of amphoras likely originating from the Iberian Peninsula, shines further light on the pan-Mediterranean trading routes of the time.

The research team, including archaeologists Dr Theotokis Theodoulou, Dr Georgios Tsimpouki and Dr Giannis Ktistakis, working in close collaboration with Professor Carl Knappett from the University of Toronto, will continue their explorations in the bay next year.


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