Considering that it takes up over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean harbors a ton of things we, as humans have no idea even exist. Especially when we have only explored about 5 percent of the whole ocean!
And as a timeless preservative, the salty sea is home to many secrets from the past. A recently uncovered shipwreck in Greece — and its contents — dating back to truly ancient origins have left researchers at a loss for words.
When the University of Patras archaeology team came across a massive shipwreck lurking below the current, they knew they had to act fast. Archaeologists aren’t the only ones looking to get their hands on treasure these days.
See, the world of antiquities is a lot more exciting than people may realize — especially in the context of ancient artifacts. There are two groups of people with very different motives searching the seven seas for treasure from the past.
National Park Service
If you have watched any recent programming from A&E, the existence of modern-day treasure hunters might not be news to you. If you haven’t, it could be somewhat unfathomable. The truth is, treasure hunters are a real thing.
In addition, they have become a real problem for the academic community. Not only must professors and researchers contend with the mammoth task of tracking down artifacts from thousands of years ago, they must do so before treasure hunters beat them to it.
The main concern about ancient artifacts falling into the wrong hands revolves around the missed opportunity to establish a thorough narrative of human history. Missing artifacts being found helps explain or confirm many theories offered by historians.
In the event of ancient “treasure” being found by individuals whose motives center solely around the anticipated profit, the educational value is completely disregarded. Something that may inform human history massively will instead be sold to the highest bidder.
Walt Disney Pictures
So, the struggle between noble academics and sly treasure hunters persists on in the modern age, like something form the plot of the National Treasure franchise. But recently, a huge win was uncovered for team academia.
Walt Disney Pictures
Dr. George Ferentinos from the University of Patras in Patras, Greece is at the center of one of the most prolific ancient discoveries ever made. In order to uncover the archaic, Ferentinos and his team had to explore below the surface level.
The surface of the Adriatic Sea, in this case. Although the image of derelict shipwrecks covering the bottom of the sea seems odd, it’s not entirely uncommon to find them. Underwater sonar is used by teams such as the one led by Dr. Ferentinos.
This powerful tool allows treasure hunters and researchers alike to locate potentially revolutionary and quite valuable objects that have been sitting on the ocean floor for thousands of years. Whether they are seen as treasure or artifacts depends on who locates them first.
The University of Patras team was searching with their sonar equipment when they came across one of the most impressive sights imaginable. A massive shipwreck, which was later dated back to somewhere between the 1st century B.C and the 1st century A.D.
It would have almost been enough to find the remains of a ship captained around the time of Christ, but they got yet another shock when the team took a closer look at the ship measuring over one hundred feet long.
A massive cargo load was still present in the hold and spilling onto the surrounding sea floor. It mostly consisted of thousands of amphorae. The amphora is a common container used by Greeks and Romans. Normally, it’s utilized for one specific substance.
Whether you’re watching The Bachelor in 2020, or attending the feast of emperor in the 1st century, there is one thing you’ve got to have — wine. The type of amphora uncovered at this particular scene is known for transporting wine.
Dr. Ferentinos is still sampling the chemical make up of what is in the sealed and preserved jars, but the chances that it is over one thousand jugs of ancient wine is likely. However, you may want to think twice before strapping on your scuba gear.
The team is still processing the ancient wreck and may or may not resurrect it from the watery grave it has been preserved in for so long. There is concern over damaging the artifacts, as well as worry they might be raided by treasure hunters if they remain.
Either way, the implications of this finding are monumental. Researchers say it confirms nearby Fiskardo as an important stop on an ancient Mediterranean trade route. Further excavation and processing of the site could yield even more information.
As this wreck was the first of its kind discovered through the use of sonar technology in place of human divers, it broadens the potential possibilities in the world of academia and, of course, does so for treasure hunters.
In the battle for uncovering the lost items of our ancient world, you have to root for the “good guys.” This particular discovery was a major win for those who plan to utilize the findings for the greater good.
Writer Peter Campbell asked, “Profit for some, or education for all?” summing up the issue succinctly. When it comes to the pieces of the puzzle that could inform us about the past, they are better off in the hands of experts.
The Goonies/ Warner Bros.
The Swedish Ocean X diving team might disagree. Lead by Peter Lindberg and Dennis Åsberg, they didn’t expect to find much while treasure hunting 300 feet from the surface of the Northern Baltic Sea. After all, the water was freezing, dark, and difficult to navigate.
They were trying to find the remnants of an old shipwreck, so they were keeping an eye out for anything oddly shaped and weirdly colored. It was slow, quiet work on the sea floor…until the eerie silence was punctuated by a beep.
The beeping came from their sonar equipment, which seconds before had shown only murky blackness. Now, however, its screen was covered with a mysterious sight: A tall, mountainous structure surrounded by rock.
This turned out to be a canyon made out of stones, sand, and molten rock. But what really caught their eye wasn’t at the bottom of the deep, dark cavern — instead, it was just a couple feet nearby.
“We were really surprised and puzzled,” Dennis said of the new discovery. “We were thinking…this is not a wreck.” It was easy to verify Dennis’ theory that their new discovery wasn’t a shipwreck, but its true identity was more difficult to figure out.
Jeffrey L. Rotman/Corbis
If you’re an explorer worth your salt, you don’t immediately jump to extraterrestrial conclusions as soon as you see something unusual. Peter and Dennis, then, were quick to bounce around some logical explanations for the object.
The Instructor/Ocean X
First, they thought it was some kind of submarine left over from World War II, or perhaps an old battleship gun turret. But each time they referred back to the blurry sonar image, they couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else entirely.
The object was a circle, about 200 ft. in diameter, with odd rivets and cracks across its top. The image they captured was so grainy, however, that it was difficult to see much else. So, they returned a year later…but this time, with back-up.
Mystery History/Ocean X
“It could be something really awesome that we’ve found,” Dennis said, and he hoped that “back-up” in the form of more advanced equipment would answer the biggest question about the object: What the heck it even was.
Ocean X Team
But they immediately encountered an issue. The problem wasn’t the clarity of the image, but the equipment itself: It just wouldn’t take a photo. According to the explorers, every time the cameras got close to the object, they would cut out completely…
Stefan Hogerborn, a professional diver with Ocean X, was baffled by the malfunctions. “Anything electric out there…stopped working when we were above the object,” he claimed. Though the team was at a loss, one group of people quickly came to the rescue.
Ocean Explorer/Ocean X
See, the sonar photo of the structure had leaked online despite Peter and Dennis’ claim that they wished to keep it “totally quiet.” It wasn’t long before the internet took in the object’s rivets and cracks and arrived at a sound conclusion.
“Yeah, definitely the Millennium Falcon,” one person commented on a news story about the discovery. It’s true that the object’s appearance looked strikingly like Han Solo’s beloved spaceship, but could it really be an object from outer space?
What really piqued the interest of the explorers wasn’t the size or shape of the object, but what it appeared to be made of: Metal. After all, why would a 200-foot object made of metal be chilling on the ocean floor?
The Lip TV/YouTube
The theory that the object was actually metal and not a rock formation only intensified the spaceship rumors, so in order to ease the public and their own nagging curiosity, Peter and Dennis opened the mystery up to experts…and the experts had thoughts.
Scientist Charles Paull said the original grainy image was sediment dropped from a fishing trawler, a school of fish, or even something as simple as a pile of rocks. The spaceship theory, he claimed, is “curious and fun, but much ado about nothing.”
Another scientist, Göran Ekberg, agreed that “the finding looks weird since it’s completely circular…but nature has produced stranger things than that.” The most incinerating claim, however, came from an actual expert on extraterrestrial life…
Doubtful of Peter and Dennis’ motives, Jonathan Hill of Mars Space Flight Facility said, “Whenever people make extraordinary claims, it’s always a good idea to consider…whether they are personally benefiting from the claim.”
Still, Peter and Dennis had at least a little support: Geologist Steve Weiner claimed that, according to his own tests, the structure was not a geological formation. He was even quoted supporting one of the most outlandish claims…
The object, Steve claimed, was made out of “metals which nature could not reproduce itself.” Peter hoped this kind of support from Steve would solve the mystery of the sunken “ship” — and help his team go further than ever before with their research.
In 2019, Peter suggested that Ocean X may return to the object…with an entire camera crew in tow. With a TV series, Peter hoped more light would be shed on the object’s identity. As for now, they’re at least sure about one thing.
Howard Hall/IMAX/Deep Sea 3-D
“[There’s] something we do not usually find in nature sitting in the…depths of the Baltic Sea,” Peter concluded. Whether or not this is true is still anyone’s guess, but as any good explorer knows, the mystery is the best part of the expedition.
If they want to preserve their find, they’ll need to work quickly. The Baltic Sea is a hot spot for explorers. Swedish archaeologist Jim Hansson from the Stockholm Maritime Museum, for instance, received an unexpected phone call came from workers who found something rare in its waters.
A construction crew had to halt their renovation of a quarry in Stockholm when they came across a big surprise in the dirt. Like the Ocean X team, none of them could at first identify the mystery object, but it looked to be made of wood — very old wood.
Doubling Jim’s interest was the location of the quarry: it was on Skeppsholmen Island, smack dab between center-city Stockholm and the Baltic Sea. If you were to visit the island today, you would mostly come across charming tourist attractions. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Historically, Skeppsholmen served as a prime military location for Sweden. It acted as a waypoint where officials could send out troops and supplies as well as a line of defense against any powers attempting to invade Stockholm. In other words, it was rich with military history.
Flickr / Marcin Zajda
Jim and some of his colleagues ran over to inspect the construction site. As they surveyed the wooden beams lying deep beneath the ground, Jim was immensely grateful the workers hadn’t interfered any more with the object. He had a feeling this was something big.
In fact, Jim theorized this Skeppsholmen dig might connect to one of his recent findings. A few months earlier, he mounted an extensive underwater expedition in southern Sweden. This was no recreational dive.
On the dive, he and his team were the first humans in hundreds of years to set their eyes on the Blekinge. The Swedes built this mighty ship in the late 1600s while at war with Russia and Denmark. So what did this have to do with Stockholm?
As Jim unearthed more of the wooden artifact, he confirmed his suspicions. They were looking at a ship, perhaps one of the most important vessels in the history of Sweden. However, Jim knew he couldn’t get ahead of himself.
To determine the exact identity of the mystery vessel, Jim and the other scientists got down and dirty in the pit. Specific details within the ruins would tell them everything they needed to know.
Jim turned his attention to some of the best-preserved timbers. You could actually see the axe marks where the shipwrights cut and fit together the wooden beams! That wasn’t all that caught Jim’s eye either.
By taking just a small sample of the wood — small enough to not damage the overall vessel — they could figure out what time period the ship was from. Jim shipped the fragment off to the lab for radiocarbon dating.
Jim’s team came back with good news: the oak timbers were from 1612 or 1613, meaning the ship’s construction wrapped up a couple years after. Fortunately, the Maritime Museum had detailed records of all the major vessels built in Sweden.
This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology
Using the records and some other clues — including this ornamental copper plate — Jim surmised they’d found the famous Scepter. It seemed almost too good to be true. After all, it was the flagship of the greatest Swedish monarch of all time!
The tactical brilliance of King Gustavus Adolphus the Great transformed Sweden into a major European power back in the 17th century. He commissioned the Scepter to lead a fleet to conquer nearby Latvia. The ship never made it.
As it approached the Baltic Coast, the Scepter suffered heavy damage from a storm. It turned back to Sweden and never sailed on a major voyage again. But how did it end up beneath a historic island in Stockholm?
Historians could not find any record of a shipwreck in Skeppsholmen. However, Jim had a wild suggestion: maybe Gustavus sunk it on purpose! It was, after all, a regular practice for the Swedish navy to sink retired vessels to provide a foundation for new shipyards.
Now that Jim and his team unearthed the top deck of the famed warship, they had to decide what to do next. A couple individuals raised the possibility of restoring the Scepter. After all, there was precedent for such a course of action.
Historians salvaged another sunken 17th century ship, the Vasa, in 1961 and put it on display at the museum. The impressive restoration soon became one of the most noteworthy cultural sites in all of Sweden. Could the Scepter follow in its footsteps?
Unfortunately, Jim knew it was not to be. While the Scepter had multiple decks in its prime, none of them remained in good enough condition to warrant the restoration. The project would simply cost too much for too little reward.
Scientist Sees Squirrel
Nevertheless, Jim and his colleagues chalked up their discovery as a major victory. He explained, “It’s a really important find because the ship is from the generation before Vasa, so we can see the technical building methods that were used, and it can help us understand what went wrong with the Vasa as well.”
Twitter / Jim Hansson
In other words, the knowledge attached to an artifact is always more important than the object itself. Plus, it will certainly lead to even bigger finds in the near future. Who can say what other secrets Jim Hansson will uncover in his hometown?