Archaeologists Find Ancient Greece’s Ancient Corinth Port 500 Years Older 

The port of Corinth in Ancient Greece flourished because of its location –  a narrow isthmus – which allowed trade between northern Greece and the Peloponnese peninsula, but archaeologists said they’ve discovered it’s 500 years older than first thought.

The port was bordered on either side by naturally protected bays and was a bridge between the Aegean and Ionian seas and a key part of the economy of Athens at the time, but its origins go back to the 7th Century B.C. they said, reported Hakai Magazine.


Previously, archaeologists examining gravesites and historical documents revealed that merchants sailed from the port, known as Lechaion, more than 2,600 years ago, in ships likely loaded with pottery, perfume, food, and fabrics to trade, the report said.

It was a discovery of five lumps of brown coal and some lead pollution that helped date the history of the port back by some 500 years, making it one of the earliest operating across the region and continent.

The revised history stems from an international research effort that’s been surveying the ancient harbor since 2013 with the team using hand augers and mechanical drills to reveal more of its findings.

French geoarchaeologist Antoine Chabrol of the Sorbonne University in France and his colleagues collected cylinders of sediment from the inner harbor, where boats would have pulled upriver to anchor.

Analyzing the mud cores, they found a sudden spike in lead levels less than three meters deep. The shift is so sharp and sustained that it could only have been caused by human activity on the riverbanks, he told the site.

Lead pollution comes from smelting, mining, and metalwork, and the scientists dated the pollution in the port to as early as 1381 B.C., or some 3,405 years ago, during the Bronze Age, providing a key indicator.

The five chunks of brown coal, each no bigger than a matchbox, provided further proof of how far back the port’s operation went because they are lignite, dating back as far as 1122 B.C. and taken from the harbor’s sediment.


The nearest known source of lignite is more than 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) away, suggesting merchants were importing the fossil fuel nuggets to stoke their harborside furnaces by the 12th Century B.C. it was said.

Bronze Age ships might have carried urns of olive oil, bulk bins of fruit, and narrow-necked jars of wine to Crete, Cyprus, and beyond but while finding Bronze Age activity evidence, the team hasn’t found pieces of the port itself.

The findings, however, show that Corinth’s port was used consistently for nearly 2,600 years, from the 13th Century B.C. to the 13th Century A.D. and Mycenaean, Phoenician, Roman, and Byzantine ships sailed from it.

“You can detect their presence in one single site,” said Panagiotis Athanasopoulos, an archaeologist at Greece’s Danish Institute at Athens and a project collaborator. “It’s like the very essence of historical continuity,” he added.

Even the revised age could be an underestimate as archaeologists had evidence of people traveling through Corinth more than 8,000 years ago, as well as pots from a late Stone Age culture that lived to the northwest, along the Adriatic Sea.

Bjørn Lovén, Co-director of the Lechaion Harbour Project and coauthor of the new paper, said this suggests Corinth’s maritime trade network may extend even deeper into history, adding to the mysteries.

Nafsika Andriopoulou, a geoarchaeologist at the Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas’ Institute for Mediterranean Studies in Greece –  who wasn’t part of the study, said an analysis of metal in the soil could bring more evidence.

Tracking metals such as copper, the main component of bronze could tell geoarchaeologists more about the port’s early uses. Similar sampling in nearby locations could even help reveal ancient trading routes, Andriopoulou said..

The team will continue their work during the summer of 2024, looking for more clues of ancient commerce and bringing renewed activity to the long-bustling port and hoping to provide a fuller picture of what it was like then.


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