The 13th-14th century Pre-Columbian round ship, possibly Venetian, is one of the top finds of the Black Sea MAP expedition. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P
2018 was the third and last year of the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea M.A.P.), an international research endeavor which has made previously unimaginable underwater archaeology discoveries, in terms of ancient sunken ships and not only, in Bulgaria’s exclusive economic zone in the Black Sea.
Described as the most extensive underwater archaeology exploration to date, the Black Sea MAP project not only discovered or rediscovered a total of 67 shipwrecks from the Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Modern Era found on the bottom of the Black Sea in Bulgaria’s section, but it also explored the once flooded coast with its submerged prehistoric settlements, and even offered insights into the hypothesis that the Black Sea was the site of the Biblical Deluge.
The large-scale international research effort and top-notch equipment aside, another factor that made the Black Sea MAP a truly unique initiative is the specific environment of the Black Sea where the water is anoxic, i.e. free of oxygen, in depths below 150 – 200 meters, which prevents decay and preserves sunken ships in a very good condition.
Black Sea MAP has been funded by the Expedition and Education Foundation (EEF), and has also been 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.
Following are what might be the five most intriguing, quite literally incredible discoveries of the Black Sea MAP underwater archaeology initiative in Bulgaria’s Black Sea zone.
13th – 14th century, Depth: 200 meters
Bulgaria’s Black Sea exclusive economic zone near Varna
Round ships sailed in seas around Europe in the 13th-14th century. Photo: Cogs and Galleys
The Black Sea MAP project has discovered world’s first ever well preserved sunken “round ship", a medieval Mediterranean ship which was a precursor to the Age of Discovery vessels like those used by Christopher Columbus sail across the Atlantic,
The sunken ship is probably Venetian and dates back to the 13th-14h century. It 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 no round ship has survived since the Late Middle Ages.
The 20-meter-long (60 feet) round ship was the one that made the Mediterranean rich in the Middle Ages, and provided the foundations for the Age of Discovery vessels.
1st century BC, Depth: 2,000 meters Bulgaria’s Black Sea exclusive economic zone
Screen shot of the 2000 year old Roman wreck in 2000m of water. The port side quarter rudder with its tiller still attached. Photo Johan Rönnby, Black Sea MAP
A perfectly preserved almost 2,000-year-old Ancient Roman ship is among the 67 sunken ships discovered and/or explored by the Black Sea MAP expedition in Bulgaria’s exclusive economic zone.
The sunken Ancient Roman ship’s mast still standing, both quarter rudders with their tillers are still attached, the yards are lying on deck where they fell, and rope is still draped over the frames.
Another incredible find from among the dozens of sunken ships is a 10th century Byzantine merchant vessel. All in all, besides, the sunken ships from the Modern Era, the Black Sea MAP expeditions has found dozens of sunken ships the last nearly 2,500 years, which belonged to Ancient Greeks, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Venice, Genoa, the Ottoman Empire, the Cossacks, and the Russian Empire.
Early Bronze Age, Depth: 2.5 meters below the present-day seabed Bulgaria’s Black Sea territorial waters, off the mouth of the Ropotamo River
The underwater archaeologists from the Black Sea MAP project have explored both the ancient landscapes and human settlements which were affected by environmental change off Bulgaria’s present-day Black Sea coast, and the shipwrecks of some 60 vessels dating from the past 2,500 years. Photo: Black Sea MAP
A submerged prehistoric settlement from the Early Bronze Age has been discovered by the Black Sea MAP expedition close to the mouth of the Ropotamo River on Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea coast.
It lies underneath the present-day seabed, which was submerged as a result of environmental change. It has been explored through underwater excavation, remote sensing and geological sampling.
The lost Bronze Age settlement was actually located near the ancient shoreline when the sea level was much lower than today, and was abandoned by its residents as the waters of the Black Sea rose.
Ice Age, 16,000 – 10,000 BC, Bulgaria’s Black Sea exclusive economic zone; 60 km to the east of today’s coast
The Western Black Sea, including Bulgaria’s waters. The Black Sea was an inland fresh water lake up until 16,000 BC – 10,000 BC. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.
The Black Sea MAP expedition’s findings have disproven the hypotheses that the Black Sea became saline and connected with the global ocean as a result of a catastrophic flood ca. 6,000-5,000 BC.
This supposed calamity was deemed as an explanation for the story about the Biblical Deluge and Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament.
The preliminary findings of the underwater archaeology expedition, however, state that the former fresh water lake that became the Black Sea got saline and linked with the World Ocean gradually, and much earlier, between 16,000 and 10,000 BC, at the end of the last Ice Age.
At the time when the Black Sea was still a fresh water lake, what is today’s Bulgarian coast was located about 60 km to the east.