Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and his colleagues at Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Athens, have conducted a four-week survey of the waters around Crete last October.
They wished to catalogue large numbers of ancient shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea. And the grand prize would be a wreck from one of the most influential and enigmatic cultures of the ancient world — the Minoans, who ruled these seas more than 3,000 years ago.
The team took a two-pronged approach to exploring around Dia. The Gudgeon crew prowled Dia’s bays, where the ocean bottom is smooth and artifacts are more likely to show up in sonar images. Near shore, where the bottom is too rocky for Gudgeon, Foley and his team of divers made a circuit of the bays at about 40 metres depth.
Almost immediately, the divers located five ancient wrecks, ranging from around the second century BC to the ninth century AD.
Foley is hoping to use the surveys to catalogue large numbers of wrecks of all ages across great swathes of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Through a combination of sonar and high-resolution digital photography, he can compile detailed three-dimensional maps of a wreck site and answer questions about the date, origin and cargo of a ship without bringing up a single artefact.
Foley estimates that hundreds of thousands of ships must have sunk in ancient times — including thousands in the Bronze Age alone — and that a significant proportion of those are still sitting at the bottom of the deep sea.