The history of the shipwreck
The shipwreck was known among divers since 1980s, when diving activity started to develop in the area. However, the official report at the Department of Antiquities (DoA) was made in 1992. Since then, several attempts have been made to survey the site, with no follow up: In 1994, a team from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of Greece visited the site, while in 2004 the private company Aquatec, in collaboration with the German Institution DEGUWA made attempts to survey and protect the site.
Gradually, knowledge of the site was widespread among the diving community. Due to its location, at a depth easily accessible to divers, and the ‘friendly’ waters of the area, it was transformed into an uncontrolled recreation spot. This resulted in its destruction and looting, and the subsequent destruction of valuable archaeological evidence.
All the above, along with the fact that a high percentage of the preserved section of the wooden hull remained exposed to the natural deterioration factors, led the Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory (MARELab_ of the University of Cyprus (UCy) to launch a research programme on the site, in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus (DoA). The 2014 Nissia Shipwreck Project, funded exclusively by the Honor Frost Foundation, aimed to document and protect the site, to lift selected parts of the hull, and to implement new methods of in situ preservation.
On a stretch of flat, sandy seabed – 28 metres, measuring appoximately 24 x 11 metres, parts of the wooden hull of a ship together with scattered pieces of timber and ceramic bricks had been reported since 1994. The area is surrounded by posidoneia fields and it is now certain that the remains of the ship extend under the seaweed. Three cannons were visible before the short 2014-excavation season.
During the first excavation season at the shipwreck, two trenches were opened.(Fig. 1) The first is located one in the area of the cannon M001 at the NE of the site, away from the shipwreck’s concentration, which was lifted (Fig. 2) and is now being conserved at the Conservation Laboratory of underwater archaeological material of the DoA. During excavation, a number of modern finds corroborated the information that looters had failed to recover one of the canons, which had fallen back on the site, where we excavated it.
The second trench was opened in the east extremity of the main concentration, tangential to the rest two visible cannons of the shipwreck. The aim was to investigate the state of preservation of the ancient hull, under the visible finds. Excavation revealed a small part of the side of the hull (frame timbers and hull planks), in a good state of preservation (Fig. 3). The trench has been systematically mapped, under the supervision of Dr Dimitrios Skarlatos, Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil Engineering and Geomatics, Cyprus University of Technology.
During excavation, several movable finds were recovered, including a deadeye, metal objects (pistol bullets and a number of still non-diagnostic metal concretions), ceramics (a water jar (Fig. 4), open glazed vessels and closed vessels, some with incised decoration), glass tableware, bricks and stones. Further study of these objects could shed light on issues relating to the ship, its dating as well as on the daily life on board. All the finds were transferred to the Conservation Laboratory of the DoA were they are being conserved.
In addition, selected timbers were lifted, samples of which were sent for dendrochronology and species analysis.
In situ preservation
The Nissia Shipwreck Project also focuses on the study of the methods of in situ preservation of organic material on two axes: (i) in situ preservation of the excavation trench, and (ii) experiments for the preservation of organic material on the seabed. Eleni Loizidou, Chief Conservator at the DoA, is responsible for this part of the project.
- In situ preservation of the excavation trench
Following the completion of the excavation, the trench was reburied using fine sand, geotextile and sandbags. The aim is to create an anaerobic environment, which does not permit the development of wood corrosion factors (oxygen, currents, sea flora and fauna).
- Experiments for the preservation of organic material on the seabed
Experiments were conducted with modern wood as well as with sections of timbers from the shipwreck. Concerning the first case, three specimens of modern wood (cedar, oak and pine) were buried in various depths in the sand and were covered using different materials (sand, geotextile and a combination of the two methods). In the second case, a timber taken from the site was cut into two pieces: the first piece was transferred to the Conservation Laboratory for conservation, while the second was reburied in the position where it was located.
The aim is to locate and evaluate the most effective conditions of in situ preservation of organic material (wood). For this purpose, future visits on the site have been planned for the systematic observation of the wood in both cases.
Nissia Shipwreck is widely known among the local diving community. The diving activity which is being conducted at the site for almost 35 years (by locals as well as by tourists), has gradually developed alternative ways of approach, signification and interpretation of the shipwreck, which are directly related with the scientific aspect of archaeology.
Over the last few years, it has been acknowledged that the active participation of the local community in the archaeological work could highlight various issues related to the interpretation of an archaeological site. The objective of this side-project, conducted by Anna Demetriou, PhD candidate at UCy, is to approach the local community in order to comprehend the alternative interpretations of this shipwreck, and to encourage participation of the community in the various phases of archaeological research.
Personal interviews were conducted with members of the diving community, focusing, at this point, on the divers that had visited the site in the past. Although most of the divers were initially reluctant to talk, they gradually became more willing to hear what the archaeologists had to say, and were ready to talk about what they knew or had heard regarding the specific site as well as other sites. A characteristic example of the positive results of this procedure was that an old diver gave to the DoA three lead pistol bullets he had taken from the site years ago.
In addition, during the excavation, the project opened the site to the public. Divers had the chance to dive on the shipwreck and either work with the team or watch the procedures followed during the underwater excavation. In this way, divers were able to familiarise themselves with the procedures undertaken during an underwater archaeological research aiming to the detailed research and preservation of the site.
The Nissia Shipwreck Project aimed to act as a platform for students’ training. To that end, students from Cyprus as well as from abroad participated in the project and had the possibility to contribute actively in a shipwreck excavation and to have the unique experience of scientific work.
Department of Antiquities, Cyprus
Department of Civil Engineering and Geomatics, Cyprus University of Technology
Honor Frost Foundation
EDT Offshore Companies
Purplesnow Management Ltd