Underwater Archaeologists Discover Roman Harbor In Ancient Greek Port

Underwater archaeologists carrying out excavations in Lechaion, once upon a time the main harbor town of Ancient Corinth, have discovered some impressive examples of Roman engineering underneath the waves.

The ancient city of Corinth, located on the Peloponnese peninsula of southern Greece, was once a strategic city of great power, placed as it was with easy access to the Mediterranean trade routes. It was famously destroyed by the Romans in 146 BCE, who laid the city to waste, and wouldn’t be rebuilt until a century later, by Julius Caesar no less.

Danish and Greek archaeologists from the University of Copenhagen and Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities have been working on the Lechaion Harbour Project since 2013, and a have a five-year permit to explore the area, but this year has been notable for its breakthrough historic finds.

“During the 2017 excavations, the first Roman-period harbor structures at Lechaion have come to light,” said project co-director Bjørn Lovén, from the University of Copenhagen, in a statement.

Dividing the harbor into Inner and Outer segments, they have been systematically studying the structures they’ve found, taking samples, logging, and dating what they find.

“The mysterious island monument in the middle of Harbour Basin 3 – an area of the Inner Harbour – was dated to the early 1st century AD. It was likely built as part of a Roman building program designed to help restore Corinth…” Lovén continued, revealing they also found a much larger basin, dating to the sixth century, in the Outer Harbour, whilst the Inner Harbour has also thrown up more proof of mid-first century harbor engineering, and even the possible foundations of a lighthouse.

The two monumental moles dominating the Outer Harbour at Lechaion. In 2017 a roughly 12 x 12-meter foundation atop the left was identified, which belonged either to a lighthouse or a large fortification tower. Drone photo: K. Xenikakis & S. Gesafidis

The island monument remains a mystery though the researchers say it was destroyed by an earthquake sometime between 50-125 CE, speculating it may be the first evidence of the earthquake of 70 CE recorded during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian (69-79 CE).

Some of the artifacts and materials they found have been incredibly well preserved. Two-thousand-year-old wooden posts look almost pristine, offering invaluable information on Roman feats of engineering not usually offered up by stone. They also found other well-preserved organic matter, including seeds, bones, and carved pieces of wood.

“As a part of our research the Centre for GeoGenetics will extract and analyse the ancient environmental DNA from the important archaeological deposits and attempt to reconstruct the past environment genetically,” Lovén said.

“Recently, they have shown that ancient DNA in deposits can identify a wide variety of organisms, everything from bacteria to plants and animals. Hence, they will characterise what lived in the area of Lechaion during the various phases of Antiquity, including the Roman period.”

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