Greece’s Top 2018 Archaeological Finds: Lost City, Tombs, Homer’s Tablet

FILE - A clay tablet with verses from Homer's Odyssey discovered in the archaeological site of Ancient Olympia, July 10, 2018. (Photo by Ministry of Culture via Eurokinissi)

Thousands of years later, Greek archaeological finds still delight professionals and the world with their wonder, luring researchers – many from other countries – hoping to unlock secrets the past, the way Greeks lived and how they achieved so much without electricity, power tools, computers and modern devices, using mathematics and engineering and their hands.

Greek and foreign teams fanned out around the country during another record tourism season, the major works concentrating on long-standing excavations at Akrotiri on the island of Santorini, in ancient Corinth, Eretria on the island of Evia and in Vergina in northern Greece and Macedonia.

The best finds were highlighted by John Leonard for Greece IS, tied to Kathimerini.

They included:

  1. The Oldest Known Written Excerpt of Homer’s Odyssey

One particular highlight this year was the discovery of a clay tablet (3rd c. AD) at ancient Olympia, inscribed with thirteen verses from Homer’s Odyssey (Bk. 14). The Olympia inscription is likely the oldest-known surviving such written excerpt of the Odyssey discovered to date, and the first recording of Homer’s epic tale to be found on such a tablet.

  1. The Most Intact Ancient Greek Vessel Ever Found

A near-complete Classical Greek merchant ship (ca. 500 BC) lying upright and virtually undisturbed was recently discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea. The 2,400-year-old wreck has been preserved even down to its mast, twin rudders, and rowing benches, thus offering the possibility at last of illuminating the exact workings of the steering system and other key, long-enigmatic details in the construction of ancient wooden ships.

(Photo by Black Sea MAP/EEF Expeditions)
  1. Unlooted Tomb 1: Peloponnese

Unlooted chamber tombs, an eternal archaeological prize, have also come to light this year. An Early Mycenaean tomb discovered (1650-1400 BC) at Aidonia, near Nemea, contained four slab-covered graves sunk in the floor and an impressive array of burial goods: bronze swords and daggers, obsidian projectile points, pottery, beads, and pins and stamps.

  1. Unlooted Tomb 2: Crete (Ierapetra)

In Crete, in the midst of an olive grove near Ierapetra, a farmer stumbled upon (and nearly into) a three-chambered tomb dating from the Late Minoan era (ca. 1400-1200 BC). Inside, archaeologists found two adult male skeletons.

  1. Unlooted Tomb 3: Crete (Siteia)

Also in Crete, richly appointed pit graves, belonging to the Proto-Minoan II (2600-2300 BC) and Middle Minoan IA eras (2100-2000 BC), were excavated in the elite/royal necropolis at Petras, in Siteia, where ongoing investigations have revealed burials of a man, a woman and two children.

large number of gold and silver jewellery, numerous bronze implements and other objects discovered at Petras, on the eastern edges of the city of Siteia on Crete. Photo: Culture Ministry
  1. Palaeolithic Dwarf Deer

One of the most important finds of 2018 has been the discovery of the earliest-known Greek art – petroglyphs inside Asfendou Cave (Sfakia, Crete), more than 11,000 years old, which provide an eyewitness account of the last Ice Age.

  1. Lost City of Tenea

There was confirmed identification of the ancient city of Tenea, about 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) south of Corinth, believed to have been initially settled by Trojan captives after the sack of Troy, and only known previously through historical texts.

  1. Santorini’s Eruption Redated

At the volcano-buried town of Akrotiri, a piece of charred olive wood recovered on the islet of Thirasia, shows that the massive prehistoric eruption, previously dated to ca. 1613 BC, actually occurred some decades later, in the early 1500s BC.

Significant new finds have been unearthed by Prof. Christos Doumas at Akrotiri, Thira. (Photo by Culture Ministry)
  1. Ancient Family Graves in Thessaly

The extent of inter-regional trade in Greece in the 2nd millennium BC was revealed in 2018 at the Bronze Age settlement of “Asvestaria” in western Thessaly in mainland Greece, where Cretan and Peloponnesian pottery items were unearthed alongside local wares.

  1. Samothrace Sanctuary Explored

In Samothrace, field research resumed after a 22-year hiatus at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, where, in the 4th c. BC Alexander the Great’s parents, Olympias and Philip II, first met.

  1. New Finds on Uninhabited Island of Despotiko

On Despotiko islet, in the Cyclades near Antiparos, two new buildings, a probable courtyard, fifteen black-glazed oil lamps and other distinctive 6th-century-BC ceramic and metal artifacts were discovered the Archaic-era Apollo sanctuary of Mandra.

Α new building containing two rooms revealed on the uninhabited island of Despotiko west of Antiparos. (Photo by Culture Ministry via Eurokinissi)
  1. Light Shed on Ancient and Medieval Kythnos

Excavations on the northwestern side of the island of Kythnos (Vryokastro) were extended in 2018 to the nearby islet of Vryokastraki, where a suspected prehistoric settlement has now been identified. Rock-cut rooms, obsidian tools and pottery indicate the islet was occupied in the Early and Late Cycladic eras (4th-3rd, late 2nd millennia BC).

  1. Corinth Goes High-Tech

The steady unveiling of ancient Corinth continued in 2018, with the excavators’ focusing on the area between the Theater and the Gymnasium. In a landmark move, after more than a century of digging, all excavation recording is achieved from the trenches using iDig.

  1. New Fourni Wrecks

Off the coast of the Fourni islands, in the strait between Ikaria and Samos, five new shipwreck sites were discovered at depths of 10-40 meters, to add to the 53 wrecks already documented there since 2015.

A Greek-U.S. team has located traces of three more ancient shipwrecks with pottery cargoes, and two from later times off Fourni island. (Photo by EEA/G. Koutsouflakis)
  1. Probing the Ship that Sank with the Parthenon marbles

Investigation of Lord Elgin’s brig Mentor also continued in 2018, near Kythera island, where the infamous Malta-bound booty ship sank in 1802 while absconding with his marble treasures wrested from the Athenian Acropolis.

  1. Mytilene’s Ancient Twin Ports

Another portion of the 3rd c. BC seaside fortification wall that once protected Mytilene’s northern port basin (Epano Skala) in Hellenistic-Roman times was uncovered in 2018, providing more clues to Lesvos island’s fascinating ancient topography.

  1. New Piece of Antikythera Mechanism Discovered

Important discoveries were also made in the laboratory during 2018. A new piece of the Antikythera Mechanism has been identified, following conservators’ removal of thick undersea encrustation and corrosion from a metal object recovered during last year’s reinspection of the famous wreck site.

  1. Mysterious Pottery Traced to Evia Island

Chemical analyses of a ubiquitous but previously enigmatic type of pottery, “Middle Byzantine Production” (MBP), have at last determined that this popular class of trade goods originated in Chalcis in Evia.