Explorers have accidentally discovered a graveyard of 41 brilliantly preserved shipwrecks at the bottom of the Black Sea.
The unique findings have been uncovered by a team of maritime archaeologists who were scanning the sea bed for clues about how fast water levels rose after the last ice age 20,000 years ago.
The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project identified ship types, some thousands of years old, belonging to the Ottoman and Byzantine empires.
Many of those found exist in historical records, but had never before been seen.
University of Southampton professor Jon Adams, who is principle investigator on the project, said: “The wrecks are a complete bonus, but a fascinating discovery, found during the course of our extensive geophysical surveys."
The team came across the ships off the coast of Bulgaria while using two new remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) to scan the sea bed.
One is equipped with a high-resolution camera that can scan the sea floor to produce a 3D image of the environment.
The other ROV is designed to “fly” at a record-breaking 6 knots and is equipped with lights and a laser scanner. So far they have covered a total distance of 777 miles at a depth of 1,800 metres.
The ships have been so well preserved because they lie in the Black Sea’s “dead zone”, which begins at 150 metres below the water’s surface.
At this depth, no life can survive due to the lack of oxygen and light, meaning there is nothing that can feed on organic materials such as wood and flesh.
The team took thousands of images of the wrecks before building perfect 3D models of their discoveries. The findings should help shine a light on how these ancient empires used the sea for thousands of years.
The next step will for researchers to analyse as much as they can while leaving the boats in place. After that they will carefully remove to the surface whatever might be contained inside the ships.
“Using the latest 3D recording technique for underwater structures, we’ve been able to capture some astonishing images without disturbing the sea bed,” Professor Adams said.
“We are now among the very best exponents of this practice methodology and certainly no-one has achieved models of this completeness on shipwrecks at these depths.”
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