Pre-Columbian Mediterranean ‘Round’ Ship Discovered for the First Time by Underwater Archaeology Expedition in Bulgaria’s Black Sea Zone
The world’s first ever well preserved sunken “round ship”, a medieval Mediterranean ship which was a precursor to the Age of Discovery vessels such as the ones on which Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, has been discovered in Bulgaria’s Black Sea zone by a large-scale underwater archaeology project, the Black Sea M.A.P.
The sunken “Western Mediterranean, possibly Venetian” ship (as it has been described) from the 13th-14h century is said to be a “discovery of global significance” because the round ship type (also known as “cog”) had been known from historical sources but a fully preserved one had never been seen since the Late Middle Ages – until its present discovery in Bulgaria’s Black Sea waters.
The other most intriguing sunken ships discovered by the archaeologists from Black Sea M.A.P. are a Byzantine ship from the late 9th or early 10th century, and an Ottoman Turkish vessel from the 18th-19th century.
The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea M.A.P.), which started in September 2015, is being carried out by the Center for Maritime Archaeology of the University of Southampton, the Sozopol-based Center for Underwater Archaeology at the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
The three year project, which is funded by the Expedition and Education Foundation (EEF), is also assisted by the University of Connecticut, USA; the Maritime Archaeological Research Institute, Södertörn (MARIS), Södertörn University, Sweden; and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research, Greece.
The results from the second voyage of the project, which took place on September 1-26, 2016, in the zone between Bulgaria’s Rezovo in the south and Cape Galata near Varna, have been presented publicly in Bulgaria’s Black Sea of Burgas by Prof. Jon Adams from the University of Southampton and Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Assoc. Prof. Krum Bachvarov, and Assist. Prof. Kalin Dimitrov from Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
“An expedition mapping drowned ancient landscapes in the Black Sea is making dramatic discoveries. An international team… is surveying the Bulgarian waters of the Black Sea where thousands of years ago large areas of land were inundated as the water level rose after the last Ice Age,” the organizers of Black Sea M.A.P have announced in a release.
“During these surveys the team have also inspected more than 40 shipwrecks, many of which provide the first views of ship types known from historical sources but never before seen. Their astonishing preservation is due to the anoxic conditions of the Black Sea below 150 meters. Together the wrecks, which include those from the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, provide new data on the maritime interconnectivity of Black Sea coastal communities and manifest ways of life and seafaring that stretch back into prehistory,” the organizers inform.
While many of the shipwrecks in question are new discoveries, according to the Bulgarian archaeologists, the most exciting of those are said to be the three medieval sunken ships.
“One of them is a Byzantine ship from the end of the 9th or the 10th century. Such finds are extremely rare. And even more interesting is a ship from the 13th-14th century, a Western Mediterranean [type], maybe Venetian, which is exceptionally well preserve,” Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, has told Nova TV.
The “Western Mediterranean” vessel has been discovered at a depth of 200 meters in the north part of the surveyed Black Sea, to the southeast of Varna.
According to archaeologist Assist. Prof. Kalin Dimitrov from the Sozopol-based Center for Underwater Archaeology, “from a scientific point of view, it is a discovery of global significance”, the BTA news agency has reported.
The possibly Venetian sunken ship is 20 meters long, and has an exceptionally well preserved hull, rear deck, rudder, and masts.
“This is the so called “round ship” – a type of vessel which emerged in the Mediterranean shortly before the Age of Discovery, and which is in fact the first type of vessel to have allowed distant voyages while cаrrying large loads,” Dimitrov explains.
“This ship was often depicted by Renaissance artists in various frescoes and paintings but it had actually never been discovered until now,” he emphasizes.
Dimitrov adds that the vessels on which Christopher Columbus sailed to reach the Americas were based on the “round ships” from the earlier period.
“It was with these ships that the Mediterranean world grew rich. These ships are known from history [sources], and there are many depictions of them in Western Europe in murals but not a single ship that is so well preserved has been discovered. Small remnants from bows or parts of sterns have been found but not such a well preserved ship like the one that we have found,” the archaeologist has stated, as cited by the Trud daily.
The archaeological team has noted that in the 13th-14th, the period the newly discovered sunken round ship dates back to, merchants from Venice, Genoa, and Dubrovnik started trading in the Black Sea. Their ventures there were especially given a boost by Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422) who granted them trading privileges.
The round ship discovered by Black Sea M.A.P. in Bulgaria’s sea zone is seen as evidence of the activeness of the rich cities from the Italian Peninsula in the Black Sea region during the Pre-Renaissance and Early Renaissance period.
Anoother of the most intriguing shipwrecks discovered by the underwater archaeology expedition is the alleged sunken Byzantine vessel which is dated back to ca. 900 AD.
Prof. Jon Adams, the head of the Black Sea M.A.P. project and the Founding Director of the Center for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, has revealed that the expedition has found amphorae, anchors, part of a mast, and part of the structure of the ship.
The Byzantine origin of the ship has not been established for sure yet but it is said to resemble known sunken Byzantine ships. Yet, it is said to be in a better condition than any of the previously discovered ones.
“Generally speaking, it dates back to the time of the reign of Tsar Simeon (Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927), ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) – editor’s note). We don’t know if it was a Bulgarian, Byzatine, or other but it is Mediterranean-type. It is also relatively well preserved although not as well as the round ship. Still, this is the best preserved ship of this period to have ever been found in the Black Sea,” Dimitrov has elaborated.
The third most intriguing shipwreck examined by Black Sea M.A.P. is an Ottoman Turkish vessel found at a depth of 150 meters. Even its rigging has been preserved thanks to the lack of oxygen which is noted as truly remarkable.
The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project is set to continue carrying out geophysical surveys to detect former land surfaces buried below the current sea bed and taking core samples to characterize and date them, the organizers of the project state.
It is noted that the Black M.A.P. team’s research ship is the Stril Explorer, a state of the art offshore survey vessel equipped with the most advanced underwater survey systems in use anywhere in the world. They are carried on two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs): the Supporter ROV is optimised for high resolution 3D photogrammetry and video.
The ROV Surveyor Interceptor is a revolutionary vehicle developed by the survey companies MMT and Reach Subsea. It flies at three times the speed of conventional ROVs and carries an entire suite of geophysical instrumentation as well as lights, high definition cameras and a laser scanner. In the course of the project it has set new records for both depth (1800m), sustained speed (over 6 knots), and has covered a distance of 1,000 km.
The Black Sea M.A.P. project operates under permits from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in strict adherence to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001).
The organizers note that in addition to the ground-breaking underwater archaeology research, other key elements of the project are education and documentary.
“In tune with the science and technology of the project, eight students of school age were selected to join the science team on board in order to experience and even participate in many of the procedures… Documentation of the project as it is happening both ashore and aboard ship has been placed in the capable hands of Black Sea Films. Just as the science is cutting-edge, so is its filming, for their team includes those who made the award-winning BBC series Blue Planet and Planet Earth. Maritime archaeology in the deep sea has often been a contested domain but this project, the largest of its type ever undertaken, demonstrates how effective partnerships between academia and industry can be, especially when funded by enlightened bodies such as EEF,” the Black Sea M.A.P. release concludes.