Bulgaria’s Oceanology Institute Finds Sunken Galley, Explores 500-Year-Old Pirate Ship in Black Sea

The Bulgarian Black Sea coast to the north of the Cape of Kaliakra. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The Bulgarian Black Sea coast to the north of the Cape of Kaliakra. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

At least 10 sunken ancient, medieval, and 19th century ships have been found in the Bulgarian section of the Black Sea during the recent exploration of the proposed route of the South Stream gas transit pipeline, according to experts from the Varna-based Fridtjof Nansen Institute of Oceanology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The South Stream gas transit pipeline is a Russian-sponsored project for transporting Russian natural gas to Europe, with a long underwater section between the coasts of Russia and Bulgaria. However, the Bulgarian government has recently terminated the execution of the project because of its failure to comply with EU regulations.

Nonetheless, the exploration of the proposed route of the South Stream pipeline in the Bulgarian exclusive economic zone has yielded really intriguing results with respect to the untapped potential of underwater archaeology in the Black Sea.

The most interesting discovery is what appears to have been a galley, possibly Ancient Greek, Dr. Iliya Shtirkov from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in a public presentation on the occasion of October 31, the Black Sea Day, as cited by local news site Moreto.

The vessel has been detected on the bottom of the Black Sea, and it has been judged that it is a galley based on the typical arched bow sticking out of the silt.

Unfortunately, the galley has been detected at the “staggering depth", in Shtirkov’s wording, of 1,400 meters.

Other intriguing underwater archaeology finds from the explorations are two vessels from the first half of the 19th century, one of which is 140 meters long.

Both of these sunken ships are found near the Cape of Kaliakra on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast, and the scientists from the Oceanology Institute in Varna are hoping to be able to explore at least one of them which lies at a depth that’s accessible for deep divers.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening any time soon is not great because an underwater archaeology expedition would cost a lot, and Bulgaria’s government barely allocates money for such efforts.

Counting the newly detected sunken ships from the exploration of the proposed gas pipeline route, the Oceanology Institute in Varna has located a total of 25 sunken vessels in the Black Sea zone between the city of Varna and the Cape of Kaliakra.

The “most famous" one of those is a 500-year-old vessel sunken to the north of the Cape of Kaliakra, which was found in 2006, and is believed to have been a pirate ship.

In his presentation entitled “Treasures on the Bottom of the Sea", Shtirkov has explained it is hypothesized that the sunken pirate vessel belonged to pirates from the Ukrainian coast of the Black Sea.

This is partly based on the fact that during that period, i.e. around 1500 AD, Christian monasteries and temples on the coasts of Greece were robbed by Ukrainian pirates.

It is one of their vessels that might have been sunk by a sea storm near the Cape of Kaliakra.

In addition to the sunken vessels, the recent exploration of the said Black Sea zone off the Bulgarian coast has also found an underwater spring, i.e. “an underwater mound" covered with large stone slabs which is a source of either natural gas, or of fresh water.

The Institute of Oceanology is about to collect samples in order to find out exactly but the latter is more likely to be the case because local fishermen claim that the Black Sea water on the spot of the mound is fresh and drinkable.

Despite the lack of funding for comprehensive underwater archaeological expeditions in the Bulgarian zone of the sea, the potential for exciting discoveries is preserved thanks to the specific features of the Black Sea.

“The Black Sea is unique for several years. It typically has storms that are quick to develop, with sharp waves for a brief period of time. These conditions often cause shipwrecks. Then there is the fact that the sunken vessels end up in the soft and deep bottom silt, a layer that is about 6 meters wide. The silt protects them from underwater currents. What is more, the environment below a depth of 150 meters is anaerobic, which prevents corrosion," explains Shtirkov.

Some scholars even believe that the archaeological exploration of the Black Sea could provide answers about the story of the Biblical Deluge and Noah’s Arc as the Black Sea is believed to have been a fresh water lake until several thousand years ago.

A major rise in sea levels (some describe it as a one time flooding which led to the Deluge stories not just in the Bible but also in different ancient mythologies) which connected it with the Mediterranean over the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles is believed to have destroyed a high prehistoric civilization living along its west and northwest coast.

As mentioned above, the Black Sea is unique because below 200 meters (60 meters in some parts) it has no oxygen but only hydrogen sulfide, therefore any underwater archaeology sites or sunken ships at greater depths are supposed to have been perfectly preserved.

Also check out some of our other stories about underwater archaeology in Bulgaria’s Black Sea section as well as other parts of the Black Sea:

Treasure Hunters Looting Bulgaria’s Black Sea Underwater Archaeology Riches As Well, Diving Instructor Reveals

Underwater Archaeologists from Bulgaria, UK, USA, Sweden, Greece Launch ‘Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project’

Greek Research Vessel Arrives in Bulgaria’s Port Varna for Underwater Archaeology Expedition in Black Sea

Bulgarian MPs Move to Protect Sunken Black Sea Ships as Underwater Archaeology Sites

Underwater Archaeology Harbors Great Tourism Potential for Bulgaria, Expert Says

Bulgarian, Romanian Archaeologists Find Sunken Wooden Ships, Soviet U-Boats in Underwater Explorations

Large Sunken Byzantine Ship Discovered in Black Sea off the Coast of Sevastopol on Crimean Peninsula