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Swimming in the waters of history

submitted by John Fardoulis on 14.11.2010

Back in August we took a trip across the Elafonisos Strait to visit the "World's Oldest Sunken Town", located at Pavlopetri.

Our team of Kytherians and Philo-Kytherians was hosted by Dr Chrysanthi Gallou, the Pavlopetri co-director. Popular Kytherian journalist, Anna Cominos reported on the visit for the Greek-Australian, Neos Kosmos newspaper.

Swimming in the waters of history
Anna Cominos explores Pavlopetri, Laconia's submerged town

17 Aug 2010
It's not often you hear whispers of a snorkelling excursion in the waters of a sunken ancient town.

So like any keen adventurer, I tagged along with a group of ancient history buffs as we made our way to Neapolis in Southern Peloponissos.

Meeting up with a lively University of Nottingham archaeologist Dr Chrysanthe Gallou, who has been a leading team member of the Pavlopetri project since 2009, we were guided through Pavlopetri's ancient cemetery.

Still clearly visible today, anyone can plainly see the Mycenaean graves carefully cut into the shoreline which once overlooked the now submerged town.

Chrysanthe explained that these ancient light-globe shaped graves were cut with precision in limestone and mirrored in reverse for the birth process, with an obvious narrow entry echoing the vaginal canal and a large area for the torso symbolising the womb.

Once buried, the beloved lay resting for three years, after which their bones were removed from the grave, sanctified in wine, stored and the empty grave was re-used.

These burial rituals are still practised in Greek Orthodoxy today.

The submerged settlement at Pavlopetri lays metres off the coast of the south-eastern Laconia, (along the Pounta shore at Vigliafia, just opposite Elafonissos) in the west end of Vatika Bay.

In 1904 respected Greek geologist Fokion Negris first identified Pavlopetri, but the significance of these findings were never widely known or recognised at this time.

The site was re-discovered in 1967 by Dr Nicholas Flemming (University of Southampton) who identified and confirmed the existence of a pre-historic town in this location.

The submerged architectural remains were first surveyed in 1968 by a group of archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and since 2009 the University of Nottingham has begun a five-year archaeological project for the systematic study of Pavlopetri in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research.

Impressed by the ancient graves, Chrysanthe went on to describe the Pavlopetri settlement before we began to do our own exploring.

Pavlopetri was a significant pre-historic harbour town, in a unique and enviable strategic position at the crossroads of the Mediterranean.

It controlled the sea-routes and regulated sea trading between Italy and the western Mediterranean, even as far as the Black Sea.

From Pavlopetri's harbour the town leaders would have controlled the exchange of olive oil, wine and agricultural produce as well as precious stones and metals.

The submerged town was first occupied in 5,500 years ago and inhabited without interruption throughout the Bronze Age (3500 BC -1100BC).

While it is uncertain how it came to be submerged, many theories exist.

There have been various Tsunamis recorded in ancient times, which could account for the geological changes in landscape.

Another strong theory is that it was destroyed by a seismic event with the valley like town collapsing into the sea, or perhaps the change in tides is at fault, the Mediterranean has risen 3 metres in the past 2000 years.

My head abuzz with Pavlopetri facts, it was time to dive into the sandy waters and be touched by the magic of this ancient world.

At a depth of 3-4 metres you can see the remains of around 20 building complexes and the archaeological remains that stretch-out about 8 hectares.

With just a mask and snorkel, I followed the walls of houses once inhabited by families.

Colourful sea urchins shells now decorate the large square-cut stones that once were the cornerstones of homes.

The well-planned town was divided into at least 6 streets and is easy to paddle along these streets, where once people exchanged greetings.

In 2009 a large building of monumental dimensions was discovered in a prominent position of the town, thought to be an Administrative building of pre-historic date confirming that Pavlopetri was a very important pre-historic harbour town and perhaps the oldest organised settlement discovered in the Western world.

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