2,5k Yo ancient port Piräus reviled with modern technology

The port and shipyards in the port of Piräus, which are absorbed in the course of the centuries in the mud are 2500 years old. Only with the latest technology in combination with classical research work and a modicum of luck a Greek Danish team of researchers could now find the equipment, map and study.

Just 400 Greek ships that can withstand a Persian by king Xerxes’s forces of around 1000 warships: The scene is a little reminiscent of the movie “300” where it takes a small force of Spartans with the huge Persian army. But what happened in the year 480 BC before Athens, is no Hollywood flicks, but entered as a naval battle of Salamis in the history. Since then not only historian, wonder what would have happened with the still young Greek State, if the Greeks had lost the battle.

3D imaging and a little luck

This will be probably not so easily answered. The “How” but are a bit closer researchers. Archaeologists and divers of the Zea Harbour project, a Danish Greek cooperation, have the ancient shipyards and docks in Piräus, the port of Athens, discovered and thoroughly investigated. The team headed by Dr. Bjørn Lovén of the Copenhagen University has become advantage advanced imaging, surveying and immersion, to find the historic buildings at the new yacht and fishing ports in Piräus and a bit of luck was in the game.

Since 2002, the Zea Harbour project in the harbour basin Zea Harbour and Mounichia East Piräus investigates clues for the ancient port, which is absorbed in the course of the centuries. In the tangle of ancient anchors, debris, and rusty chains hardly anything was clear until an old fisherman named Mitsakos led divers to the right place, so the modern legend in the murky water.

Clearly mapped hidden artifacts in the mud

And there was more: very quickly, the team had found an ancient wall and regularly arranged stones a foundation. From there it was gorgeous, wide research: A team of Geophysicists groped the bottom with a Subbottom Profiler, a sediment echo-sounder, which penetrates the surface to a depth of up to ten meters. This came a pages sonar and a depth sounder, test borings and classical measurement technique.

Zea and Mounichia
Satellite image of the modern port of Piräus with the three docks Kantharos, Zea and Mounichia. Photo: GoogleEarthPro / Carlsberg

In this way one came detailed 3D map of the soil and even more interesting an overview of everything that’s still so everything in the mud. On the basis of this map, archaeologists could then go ahead, take samples, document for the most part under water, and with a view of just 20 cm.

New technique used

Ingenuity of researchers around Dr. George Papatheodorou of the University of Patras in Greece was useful for map making: put the pages sonar device even at depths of less than a meter, which is actually not so intended. So that was all the equipment, including two laptops, a generator, a GPS system, of course the sonar device, and last but not least three team members in a tiny dinghy with minimal draught and low noise emissions had to be accommodated. To shorten it: managed the project, and at the end, the researchers in the port of Mounichia had revealed the structure of six ancient hangars; a complex the size of two football fields.

These hangars were lined of 1, 4 x 1, 4 m high pillars and housed the naval forces of the Greeks around 2500 years ago to protect them from the elements and the dreaded ship Bohrwurm. That indeed was this halls, confirmed the dating of a piece of wood using the radiocarbon method on the year 520 to 480 BC. Individual potsherds support this result.

Buildings from the heyday of ancient Greece

Most likely were in up to 90 meters long and eight meters high hangars accommodated also the so called Triremes, the floors arranged by rowers in three moves an extremely successful type of ship of antiquity. Such a ship, known also as the “Holy Grail of underwater archaeology”, researchers have not found so far but to her regret, but still lots of other buildings, walls, remains of ramps and facilities, including the quay wall on the South side of Mounichia, up to ten meters thick, 146 m long and 15 m must have been high.

Zea Harbour
Satellite image of the modern port of Piräus with the three docks Kantharos, Zea and Mounichia. Photo: GoogleEarthPro / Carlsberg

In addition to the hangars from the time of the battle of Salamis, the researchers found even more remnants of recent probably from the fourth century BC, the golden age of ancient Athens: leftovers from giant ramps, Harbour walls and other buildings. At least seven different types of ramps and hangars were created here probably over a period of about 150 years, so the members of the Zea Harbour project.

Thanks to ever more detailed insights into past technological progress

It was not easy to map the finds the correct times, archaeologists declared: what often neatly and layer by layer is superimposed on land, had been stirred messed up in the water and the mud of the harbour basin for centuries used however by means of modern technology, many archaeological finds settled map, so that a coherent picture.