From The Associated Press
Two Roman-era shipwrecks have been found in deep water off a western Greek island, challenging the conventional theory that ancient shipmasters stuck to coastal routes rather than risking the open sea, an official said Tuesday.
Greece's culture ministry said the two third-century wrecks were discovered earlier this month during a survey of an area where a Greek-Italian gas pipeline is to be sunk. They lay between 1.2 and 1.4 kilometres (0.7-0.9 miles) deep in the sea between Corfu and Italy.
That would place them among the deepest known ancient wrecks in the Mediterranean, apart from remains found in 1999 of an older vessel some 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) deep off Cyprus.
Angeliki Simossi, head of Greece's underwater antiquities department, said sunken ancient ships are generally found 30-40 metres (100-130 feet) deep.
Most scholars believe that ancient traders were unwilling to veer far offshore, unlike warships which were unburdened by ballast and cargo.
"There are many Roman shipwrecks, but these are in deep waters. They were not sailing close to the coast," Simossi said.
"The conventional theory was that, as these were small vessels up to 25 metres (80 feet) long, they did not have the capacity to navigate far from the coast, so that if there was a wreck they would be close enough to the coast to save the crew," she said.
U.S. archaeologist Brendan Foley, who was not involved in the project, said a series of ancient wrecks located far from land over the past 15 years has forced experts to reconsider the coast-hugging theory.
"The Ministry of Culture's latest discoveries are crucial hard data showing the actual patterns of ancient seafaring and commerce," said Foley, a deep water archaeology expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Jeffrey Royal, director of the Key West, Florida, based RPM Nautical Foundation, said that in many cases -- as when winds threatened to push ships onto rocks -- ancient mariners made a conscious effort to avoid coastal waters.
Royal, whose foundation has carried out a series of Mediterranean underwater projects, said the depth of such finds is immaterial from an archaeological standpoint.