An­cient un­der­wa­ter city at risk

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site of Pavlopetri in­cluded in the World Mon­u­ments Watch list

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SAKIS IOANNIDIS

“The com­mu­nity is the best guardian for Pavlopetri and it needs to be helped,” says Dr Ni­cholas Flem­ming, a marine geo-ar­chae­ol­o­gist at the In­sti­tute of Oceanog­ra­phy at the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton.

Flem­ming was the first to dis­cover, in 1967, the Bronze Age city of Pavlopetri, un­der­wa­ter off the coast of south­ern La­co­nia in the Pelo­pon­nese. He re­cently went back to the site he first ex­plored al­most half a cen­tury ago, to ob­serve the de­lin­eation of the un­der- wa­ter ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site.

Pavlopetri was listed on the 2016 World Mon­u­ments Watch in Oc­to­ber 2015. Launched in 1996, the World Mon­u­ments Watch is is­sued ev­ery two years by the World Mon­u­ments Fund, an in­de­pen­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion de­voted to sav­ing the world’s trea­sured places. The list­ing of Pavlopetri, it is be­lieved, will help raise aware­ness about the threats fac­ing the site and foster pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in its pro­tec­tion.

Un­der­wa­ter ru­ins face three kinds of threats, says Bar­bara Euser, pres­i­dent of the Greek chap­ter of the Al­liance for the Restora­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage (ARCH), which pro­moted the nom­i­na­tion of Pavlopetri on the World Mon­u­ments Watch list: first, pol­lu­tion caused by com­mer­cial ships; sec­ond, shift­ing sed­i­ment caused by smaller boats trav­el­ing over the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains can dam­age the foun­da­tions and walls; a third threat is loot­ing of find­ings from the sea floor.

Flem­ming and De­spina Kout­soumba, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist at the Ephor­ate of Un­der­wa­ter An­tiqui- ties, re­cently or­ga­nized an un­der­wa­ter tour at the site. “Some walls can be seen at a depth of half a me­ter,” Kout­soumba said.

Mean­while, the Ephor­ate, the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Ela­fon­isos and the Re­gional Au­thor­ity of the Pelo­pon­nese, re­cently joined forces to pro­mote the site by in­stalling un­der­wa­ter signs, hand­ing out in­for­ma­tive ma­te­rial, pre­par­ing a wa­ter­proof map and de­sign­ing a tour for vis­i­tors.

Cre­at­ing a sea park is a pos­si­bil­ity, Flem­ming says, adding, how­ever, that au­thor­i­ties should be ex­tremely care­ful about how they run a Bronze Age un­der­wa­ter site so as to pre­vent any dam­age.

Early re­search at Pavlopetri was car­ried out in the late 1960s by a team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists from Cam­bridge Univer­sity who mapped the an­cient city. About four decades after the first divers vis­ited Pavlopetri, in­ter­est in the site resur­faced. In 2009 the Ephor­ate of Un­der­wa­ter An­tiq­ui­ties of the Greek Min­istry of Cul­ture, the Hel­lenic Cen­ter for Mar­itime Re­search and the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham launched a five-year project to out­line the his­tory and development of Pavlopetri.

Hav­ing ex­plored about 400 un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, Flem­ming be­lieves that Pavlopetri still holds many se­crets. The city was grad­u­ally cov­ered by wa­ter thou­sands of years ago as the sea level rose due to earth­quakes and the end of the ice age. How­ever, he says, the an­cient city serves as a model of a fish­ing vil­lage that was turned into a port and com­mer­cial cen­ter, well pro­tected from the nat­u­ral environment.

“Sea­men never make a mis­take when they pick a port,” Flem­ming says. “And that was true five thou­sand years ago.”

Early re­search at Pavlopetri, off the coast of south­ern La­co­nia in the Pelo­pon­nese, was car­ried out in the late 1960s by a team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists from Cam­bridge Univer­sity who mapped the an­cient city.

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