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2400-Year-Old Greek Ship is the Oldest Wreck Yet Discovered

Greek shipwreck Black Sea
The ancient Greek shipwreck “Odysseus,” thought to be the oldest ever found, could change our understanding of ships in the ancient world. Video screenshot/Maritime Archaeology Project

The discovery of the ancient Greek shipwreck “Odysseus,” thought to be the oldest of its kind ever found, at the bottom of the Black Sea could change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.

The 75 foot ancient Greek trading vessel was found lying whole with its mast, rudders, and rowing benches intact after more than 2,400 years in 2018.

The Odysseus shipwreck was found in a well-known “shipwreck graveyard” in the Black Sea that has already revealed over sixty other vessels.

Oxygen-free waters preserved the Odysseus shipwreck

A remote-controlled submarine piloted by British scientists spotted the ship lying on its side about fifty miles off the coast of Bulgaria.

The ship lies in over 1.3 miles of water deep in the Black Sea where the water is anoxic (oxygen free), which can preserve organic material for thousands of years.

A small piece of the vessel has been carbon-dated, and it has been confirmed that it is from approximately 400 BC, making the ship the oldest intact shipwreck known to mankind.

During the most recent exploration in late 2017, the team discovered what has now been confirmed as the world’s ‘oldest intact shipwreck,’ a Greek trading vessel design previously only seen on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum.

Greek shipwreck is thought to be the oldest ever found

Siren vase
This vase shows the same kind of ship as the wreck found in the Black Sea. Odysseus and the Sirens, eponymous vase of the Siren Painter, c. 480 to 470 BC (British Museum). Credit: Jastrow / Public Domain

The ship could shed new light on the ancient Greek tale of Odysseus tying himself to a mast to avoid being tempted by sirens.

The vase shows Odysseus, the hero from Homer’s epic poem, tied to the mast of a similar ship as he resisted the Siren’s calls.

Jon Adams, the project’s chief scientist, said the wreck was very well-preserved with the rudder and tiller still in place.

“A ship, surviving intact, from the Classical world, lying in over 2 km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” he said.

“This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world,” Adams added.

The story of Odysseus

The Odyssey (Odysseia in Greek) is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. Scholars believe it was composed near the end of the 8th century BC somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia.

It is one of the oldest works of literature still read by millions of people around the world. As with the Iliad, the poem is divided into 24 books.

It follows the Greek hero Odysseus, king of the island of Ithaca, and his journey home after the ten-year Trojan War.

Odysseus’ journey lasts for ten additional years, during which he encounters many dangers, temptations, and perils, and all his crewmates are killed.

In his absence, Odysseus is assumed dead by his fellow countrymen in Ithaca, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must contend with a group of unruly suitors who compete for Penelope’s hand in marriage.

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