Maritime History: Dokos, the Most Ancient Shipwreck in the World

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The Dokos shipwreck is the oldest underwater shipwreck discovery known to archeologists.

The wreck has been dated to the second Proto-Helladic period, 2700-2200 BC. The shipwreck is about 15-30 meters (50-100 feet) underwater off the coast of southern Greece, near the island of Dokos (ancient name Aperopia) in the Aegean Sea. Dokos is located about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Sparta in the Peloponnese.

The ship itself is long gone, as the sea has dissolved everything biodegradable. The only survivor of the shipwreck is a cargo site containing hundreds of clay vases and other ceramic items carried aboard the ship. On August 23, 1975, American archeologist Peter Throckmorton discovered these four-thousand-year-old remains.

The Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology excavated the Dokos wreck site extensively between 1989 and 1992. (HIMA). Dr. George Papathanasopoulos, President of HIMA, led the first full-scale excavation of an ancient shipwreck in Greece. Because of the irregularity of the seafloor, a new system called the Sonic High Accuracy Ranging and Positioning System (SHARPS) was used to plot and map the underwater discoveries. Additional surveys were carried out, and it was confirmed that the remains dated to the Early Helladic period.

The Cycladic pottery evidence, according to HIMA, dates to around 2200 BC, making the Dokos wreck the oldest known underwater shipwreck ever discovered. The clay pots appear to be products of an ancient Argolida manufacturing plant. It is assumed that these were meant for trade with small coastal villages along the Gulf of Argos and the Myrtoan Sea. The cargo site contains one of the most extensive collections of Early Helladic II pottery ever discovered. Before the invention of the pottery wheel, this Helladic pottery technology existed. Hundreds of ceramic pieces, including cups, kitchenware, and urns, made up the pottery. Over 500 clay vases from the Early Helladic period were discovered. Sauceboats of various shapes and sizes were available. Early Helladic bowls and sauceboats were the most common types found in southern and central Greece. Following a closer examination of the sauceboats, it has been suggested that they resemble those from Askitario in Attica, as well as those from Lerna and the Cyclades. This evidence suggests that the shipwreck was located along a maritime trade route connecting South Euboea to the Saronic and Argolid gulfs. There were numerous amphorae discovered, as well as basins, wide-mouthed jars, braziers, baking trays, askoi, pithoi, and other common household utensils.

Stone anchors were discovered 40 meters away from the wreck. The anchors were two large boulders with holes bored in them that were most likely dropped before the ship sank. Lead ingots for trade were also discovered. The merchant ship carried a wide range of tableware thought to have traded throughout the region.

From 1989 to 1992, the HIMA excavation yielded over 15,000 pottery sherds and artifacts. They also discovered a large number of millstones at the site, which are thought to have been part of the ship’s cargo or possibly used as ballast. These artifacts and items were recovered from the sea floor and brought to the Spetses Museum, where they will be studied and preserved.

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