Ancient Greek city digitally recreated

Archaeology Correspondent,David Keys
Friday 07 October 2011 18:57 BST

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A submerged ancient Greek city, from the heroic era portrayed in Homer’s Iliad, is being ‘raised’ from the bottom of the Aegean.

Using cutting edge underwater survey equipment and site reconstruction software, archaeologists and computer scientists have joined forces to map and digitally recreate a Bronze Age port which was swallowed by the waves up to 3000 years ago.

It’s the first time that a submerged city has ever been fully mapped in photo-realistic 3D.

The entire city – covering 20 acres – has been surveyed in ultra-high definition, with error margins of less than three centimetres.

The survey – carried out by an archaeological team from the University of Nottingham – is the subject of a special BBC Two documentary, tomorrow Sunday evening.

The original name and political status of the site is a complete mystery. The evidence so far suggests that it flourished between 2000 and 1100 BC, peaking in size in the two century period, 1700-1500BC, and being abandoned about a century before the end of the millennium.

It’s conceivable that, at its peak, the city was a commercial or political satellite of the ancient Minoan Civilization which flourished on the island of Crete 80 miles across the sea to the south.

For most of its final few centuries, it probably functioned as a major port of the Mycenaean civilization – and may well have been one of the more important population centres of the Kingdom of Laconia (Mycenaean era Sparta), the state associated in Homeric legend with King Menelaus and his adulterous Queen, Helen, whose famous decision to run away to Troy with her Trojan lover is said to have triggered the Trojan War.

Certainly the site would have been a flourishing town with around 2000 inhabitants at the time traditionally associated with Menelaus and the war (said to be around 1200BC).

It would almost certainly not have been Bronze Age Laconia’s major political centre which is thought to have been 60 miles further north. But it may well have been that Kingdom’s premier port for trade with Crete, the Aegean islands and Anatolia.

Led by marine archaeologist, Jon Henderson of the University of Nottingham’s Underwater Archaeology Research Centre, the survey team has so far located scores of buildings, half a dozen major streets and even religious shrines and tombs.

The entire drowned city lies four metres below the surface of the Aegean, immediately off the coast of the eastern peninsula of southern Greece’s Peloponnese region .

At the heart of the city was a 40 metre long 20 metre wide plaza. Most of the houses had up to a dozen rooms. One larger building also had substantial storage facilities for imported foodstuffs.

The city sunk beneath the waves during a series of earthquakes which caused land in that immediate area to subside relative to sea level, probably in the earlier first millennium BC.

“Surveying the city has been a unique operation. It’s one of the few places on earth where, as a marine archaeologist, you can quite literally swim along a drowned street of an ancient city or look inside a submerged tomb,” said Dr. Henderson.

“The detailed information we’ve been able to obtain through the survey is giving us an unprecedentedly detailed view of what a Bronze Age Mycenaean era city looked like,” he said.

City Beneath the Waves: Pavlopetri, BBC Two, Sunday, 9 October, 8pm

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