18 August 2012, 17:20

Mystery of Russian Atlantis

Mystery of Russian Atlantis
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An ancient merchant ship has been discovered under Taman Bay near the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. About 13 centuries ago, the vessel left Byzantium and then sank off Phanagoria, the largest Greek colony on the Taman peninsula. At the time, Phanagoria was said to be the biggest economic and cultural center in the Mediterranean.

Russian archaeologists will have tougher times ahead trying to shed light on the sinking of the vessel. It is still unclear why there only one amphora was on board and what happened to the cargo. Scientists are yet to found out the name of the ship which has already been called the most valuable artifact in 12 years. As for Phanagoria, it was the center of the Bosporan Kingdom in the 5th century B.C. Phanagoria had been an essential part of Byzantium for several centuries and then it became the first capital of Bulgaria and subsequently one of the largest cities of the Khazarian Empire. Right now, one third of this ancient city is submerged by the sea, which is why many refer to Phanagoria as ‘Russian Atlantis.’

Vladimir Kuznetsov, head of the Phanagorian archaeological expedition, says that it is under the Black Sea that the relevant artifacts are being searched for.

"We are exploring the sea bed with the help of special equipment, Kuznetsov says, citing the 15-meter-long merchant ship that was found under Taman Bay earlier this year. Right now, we are in the process of cleaning the vessel that was hidden by a 1.5-meter layer of sand. We were really lucky to find such an ancient ship, something that was preceded by our discovering other artifacts under the Black Sea, including parts of marble statues," Kuznetsov concludes.

Upon being cleared, the ship will be brought to the surface, scientists said, adding that the reconstructed vessel is expected to be on display at the yet-to-be-unveiled Phanagoria museum.

Meanwhile, hundreds of tourists from neighboring resorts daily come to the Taman peninsula to see Phanagoria’s ancient buildings which were well preserved under a 7-meter layer of soil. All those looking to walk down the Phanagoria streets will soon be able to do so, says Georgy Kokunko, head of the Volnoye Delo project pertaining to Kuban’s historical and cultural heritage. All the more so that nothing prevents archaeologists from dealing with excavations on the Taman peninsula.

"The peninsula’s geographic situation makes it possible to implement a wide array of historical and cultural projects there, Kokunko says, referring to the future Phanagoria museum which will, in particular, include the city’s reconstructed infrastructure facilities. With one third of the city being submerged, we should seize a unique opportunity to put a spate of underwater artifacts on display."

Scientists started to explore Phanagoria back in the 18th century, when it became an essential part of the Russian Empire. The exploration’s active phase, however, began just several years ago, something that means that archaeologists and historians are almost certain to find more artifacts and facts related to Phanagoria which had been something of a bridge between the East and the West for 1,500 years.

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