The remains of ancient coastal structures and a port, a large number of shipwrecks dating back to various eras and significant smaller finds were found in underwater archaeological excavations conducted by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities at the island of Delos from May 2 until May 20, the culture and sports ministry announced on Monday.
"The finds confirm that Delos was an important trading base and an important maritime trade route through the ages, linking the east and west Mediterranean," a ministry announcement said.
Archaeologists carried out an in-depth investigation of the ancient breakwater that protected the island's central port in antiquity from the strong northwestern winds, which is now underwater because the sea level has risen by two metres since that time.
According to the ministry, the breakwater was an "impressively strong structure, roughly 160 metres long and at least 40 metres wide, built on a pile of unshaped rocks, while its upper structure was for the great part constructed of granite blocks of impressive size." The date of its construction remains unknown and further archaeological and geological research will be needed to discover this, it added.
Other finds included the remains of walls and a fallen colonnade, the remains of a later Hellenistic era shipwreck carrying amphorae of oil and wine from Italy and the western Mediterranean, as well as another two shipwrecks from the same era off the southern tip of Delos and at Rineia, in Fylladi Bay.
The mission also had the opportunity to photograph and map two more shipwrecks found in previous underwater explorations, at Kato Kerenale and near Fournoi.
All the shipwrecks found date to the period between the end of the 2nd century and the 1st century B.E.C. when the island was at the height of its prosperity, before it was sacked by Mithridates and the pirates of Cilicia.
Archaeologists also stressed the discovery of amphorae dating to various periods and geographical regions, noting that these helped in the reconstruction of Delos' history through the ages. Finds from regions outside the Aegean - such as Italy, Spain and North Africa - demonstrated that the island had trade transactions throughout the Mediterranean during the Hellenistic period, while there were also earlier finds dating to the 5th century B.C. when little is known about the island's trade and transactions. Finds that antedate the sacking of the island, meanwhile, show that it continued to be inhabited and still played an important role in trade and navigation.
The exploration was carried out in collaboration with the French Archaeological School and the head of the Delos excavations Dr. Jean Charles Moretti, as well as Dr. Mantha Zarmakoupi of the National Hellenic Research Foundation, with assistance from underwater topographer Lionel Fantin of the French School and Spyridon Moureas providing technical support. The cost of the excavation was covered by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the French Archaeological School and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.