Ancient Greek Pivotal Shipyard Discovered

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June 22, 2016

Underwater archaeologists spent more than a decade excavating what they think is a shipyard complex that housed seagoing vessels during one of Ancient Greece’s finest hours.

The dig found extensive remains of six sheds that the archaeologists housed triremes from the late 6th and early 5th Centuries B.C. Fragments of wood date to between 520 B.C. and 480 B.C. That later year was the year that Greek ships dealt a serious blow to the invading Persians at the Battle of Salamis, during the Persian Wars.

Following the success at Thermopylae, the Persian army poured into mainland Greece and wreaked havoc, including burning Athens to the ground. The people and army of Athens, however, had escaped to the island of Salamis in the ships that far-sighted generals had insisted on building several years before.

The Persian fleet followed the retreating Greeks to Salamis, where another surprise awaited. With the Persian Emperor Xerxes watching on his throne from high up on a mountaintop overlooking the Bay of Salamis, the Greek ships first sailed away from shore, pretending to flee the island, then turned around quickly and began ramming the larger, slower-moving, more difficult-to-manuever Persian ships. Before Xerxes knew what had hit him, half his fleet was on the ocean floor. In frustration as great as his father's 10 years earlier, Xerxes led his army back home.

The Zea Harbour Project began digging under what is now the Mounichia harbor in the port city of Piraeus in 2001. They found, during a dig that lasted 11 years, a group of wooden structures measruing up to 25 feet high and 164 long. The sheds would have protected the ships from warping and from being infested by shipworm.

The dig also turned up pottery shards that also helped the archaeologists date the sheds’ use.

The team had to equip its divers with special equipment because the water in the harbor was polluted. In some cases, the divers could see no more than 8 inches in front of them.

Bjorn Loven, the lead archaeologist, announced the results.

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