Archaeologists Discover 'Ancient Shipwreck Capital of the World'

In a “once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” underwater archaeologists have uncovered 22 ancient shipwrecks near the small Greek archipelago of Fourni.

The wrecks span the ages—from around 700 BCE to the 16th century CE. For nearly 2000 years, the dozen-plus islands of Fourni saw a lot of traffic while serving as a stop within a massive network of long-distance trade routes between the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Cyprus, Egypt, and the Levant. Most of the wrecks—all of which are the remains of merchant ships—date to the Late Roman period, from the 4th to the 7th century CE.

Peter Campbell, co-director of the Fourni Underwater Survey, told Discovery News: "Surpassing all expectations, over only 13 days we added 12 percent to the total of known ancient shipwrecks in Greek territorial waters."

This was the first time an underwater archaeological survey had been conducted in the area. But since the archipelago was more of a rest stop than a destination, the volume of wrecks surprised even the experts. In fact, the sheer number of wrecks was so surprising to the Greek-American team that at one point, overwhelmed by the findings, they stopped looking for new wrecks in order to focus on cataloging the already discovered ones. Scholars believe that even more have yet to be found—perhaps as many as 40 in all.

The many wrecks were likely caused by storms or equipment malfunctions, though the area was also known for piracy.

While much has been lost to time and the elements, the amphorae discovered among the wrecks offer much to be studied and conserved. Pottery that once held things like fish sauce and olive oil now contain valuable insights for scientists about how people in the ancient world traded and navigated on the open sea.

[h/t Independent]

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Drought Reveals Ancient Sites in Scotland That Can Only Be Spotted From the Air
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Typically rainy Scotland is in the middle of an unusually dry summer—and local archaeologists are taking advantage of it. As the BBC reports, the drought has revealed ancient sites, including Roman camps and Iron Age graves, that have been hidden by farm soil for years.

Historic Environment Scotland has been conducting aerial surveys of the country's landscape since the 1930s, but it's in seasons like this, when the crops recede during dry weather, that the buried remains of ancient structures are easiest to spot. Conditions this summer have been the best since 1976 for documenting archaeological sites from the sky.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

The crescent-shaped crop mark in the photo above indicates a souterrain, or underground passageway, that was built in the Scottish Borders during the Iron Age. The surveyors also found remains of a Roman temporary camp, marked by straight lines in the landscape, built in modern-day Lyne—an area south of Edinburgh already known to have housed a complex of Roman camps and forts.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

In the image below you'll see four small ditches—three circles and one square—that were likely used as burial sites during the Iron Age. When crops are planted over an ancient ditch, they have more water and nutrients to feed on, which helps them grow taller and greener. Such crops are especially visible during a drought when the surrounding vegetation is sparse and brown.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Environment Scotland has a team of aerial surveyors trained to spot the clues: To date, they've discovered more than 9000 archaeological sites from the air. HSE plans to continue scoping out new areas of interest as long as the dry spell lasts.

It's not just in Scotland that long-hidden settlements are coming to light: similar aerial surveys in Wales are finding them too.

[h/t BBC]

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Billion-Year-Old Rocks Reveal the First Color Ever Produced by a Living Thing
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Billions of years ago, before there were plants and animals on Earth, there were rocks, tiny organisms, water, and not much else. It’s hard to envision what our barren planet looked like back then, but scientists now have some idea of what colors dominated the landscape.

As Vice reports, a team of researchers from Australian National University (ANU) were able to pinpoint the oldest colors ever produced by a living creature: purple-red hues dating back more than 1.1 billion years. The pigments, which appear pink when diluted, were found in molecular fossils of chlorophyll that had been preserved in rocks beneath the Sahara desert. A billion years ago, though, this area was “an ancient ocean that has long since vanished,” Nur Gueneli of ANU said in a statement.

Chlorophyll may very well be green, but these pinkish pigments are a result of "fossilized porphyrins, a type of organic compound that forms an atomic ring around a magnesium ion to form a chlorophyll molecule," Vice explains.

While this provides an interesting visual, the color itself is less important than what it reveals about some of the earliest life forms on Earth. Scientists determined that the chlorophyll was produced by ancient organisms called cyanobacteria, which derived energy via photosynthesis and ruled the oceans at that time, researchers wrote in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Larger planktonic algae—a potential food source for bigger life forms— were scarce, which may explain why large organisms didn’t roam the Earth a billion years ago. That kind of algae was about a thousand times larger than the cyanobacteria.

“The cyanobacterial oceans started to vanish about 650 million years ago, when algae began to rapidly spread to provide the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth," ANU associate professor Jochen Brocks said.

So the next time you encounter algae, you can thank it for helping you secure a spot on this planet.

[h/t Vice]

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