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Roman wreck found off Cyprus' coast
2007-09-06 08:51:24

Nicosia, Sep 6 - An extensive wreck site dating to the early imperial Roman era, around the 1st century AD was brought to light by a brief season of underwater diving survey along Cyprus' east coast, carried out by a small international team of archaeologists and students during late July and early August.

According to a press release, three weeks were spent at sheltered inlets and dangerous promontories in the area of Cape Greco and north towards Protaras area, in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities, in an effort to determine the area’s long-term maritime history in advance of eventually locating well-preserved shipwrecks.

A total of six stone and metal anchors recorded through the area, testify to a long history from antiquity through at least the mediaeval period of merchants stopping at the numerous natural and manmade ports that dot these shores.

A number of important ceramic deposits, representative examples of which were raised for drawing and then were re-deposited, provide information in greater detail of these inlets and promontories. In certain cases, the amphorae and other cultural material provide solid evidence for maritime traffic dating from the Archaic of Classical period.

The much greater quantities of Hellenistic through Late Roman pottery though, identify these centuries as the most commercially prosperous, an observation that is understandable, when one considers that this was the area of ancient Lefkolla, attested in the early Roman era by the geographer Strabo somewhere along this coast, but thus far never positively identified through survey or excavation.

Along with the more important findings is an extensive wreck site dating to the early imperial Roman era, around the 1st century AD, which carried a mixed cargo of several amphora types, predominantly jars from the southeast Aegean area.

Despite the fact that the wreck is in shallow to moderate waters and thus disturbed by the environment, the site can still be recognized as one of some importance for understanding the region’s maritime trade during the period of Cyprus’ early incorporation into the Roman Empire.

As far as plans for the future are concerned, they include the returning to several large ceramic concentrations for more extensive documentation, as well as more intensive mapping of this early Roman wreck. The search for cultural material, including better preserved shipwrecks, will also be extended to the deeper sandy seabed, well suited to remote sensing techniques, especially sonar but potentially also magnetometry.

According to a press release, the area’s prominent maritime history is testified not only by the ceramic deposits recorded at ports, anchorages and promontories, but also through reports from local divers and specific events in the historical record.

As said by Diodoros, it was somewhere in the area, where in 306 BC the Macedonian Demetrios the Poliorketes triumphed over Ptolemy of Egypt in one of the largest naval engagements of antiquity. Although Ptolemy eventually victoriously returned thus controlling the island through the rest of the Hellenistic period, nearly a hundred warships were reported as sunk during the combat. Hence, the course of the survey of archaeologists working in deeper waters offshore, far from the coastline appears to be hopeful.

The project follows four seasons in and around Episkopi Bay on the south coast, and is financially and logistically supported by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Texas A&M University, the University of Pennsylvania, and RPM Nautical Foundation, with the additional support of a research vessel and equipment from the Thetis Foundation of Limassol.

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