University of Colorado archaeologist, colleagues hot on the trail of ancient Persian warships 4-Feb-2004
Most useful research tool an octopus
An international research team including a University of Colorado at Boulder professor has mounted a deep-water search off the northern coast of Greece in search of a fleet of Persian warships presumed lost in a massive ocean storm in 492 B.C.
The armada of warships is believed to have been sent by Persian King Darius to invade Greece, according to ancient historical accounts. The research team included more than a dozen Greek, Canadian, American and Finnish scholars.
The project is being conducted in the seas off the Mt. Athos peninsula. "This survey is the first one where scholars have searched for fleets of ancient ships using an historical source--in this case the writings of Herodotus," said CU-Boulder History Professor Hohlfelder, a senior maritime archaeologist on the project.
Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived from 485 to 430 B.C., is often called "The Father of History." His extensive writings include a report that in 492 B.C., nearly 300 ships and more than 20,000 men perished in a severe storm off Mt. Athos.
The event was said to cause Persian King Xerxes to cut a canal through the narrowest part of Mt. Athos prior to his 480 B.C. invasion of Greece to avoid the need to round the peninsula in the Aegean Sea, said Hohlfelder.
We were a high-tech operation, but our most useful research tool turned out to be the octopuses that lived in these waters," said Hohlfelder. One octopus living in a ceramic pot 300 feet down had dragged broken pieces of pottery, stones and a bronze spear point with part of the wooden shaft still intact into the entrance of its home.
"Happily for marine archaeologists, these animals love to collect antiquities and pull them into their homes. "Very often the first clue that a shipwreck is nearby is a pile of artifacts collected by these wonderful creatures with an antiquarian's passion for old things."