The Dokos Cargo site

The Early Helladic Cargo Site at the Dokos island was found in 1975 by Peter Throckmorton.

In 1975 and 1977 HIMA undertook two preliminary surveys at the site ynder the direction of George Papathanassopoulos.

From 1989 to 1992 the Institute conducted the excavation of the site; more than 15,000 pottery sherds, millstones and other artefacts have been raised and transporetd to the Museum of Spetses for study and conservation.

The Finds


The pottery from the Dokos cargo site, which all appears to belong to a late phase of EH II, includes all the basic EH II types known from numerous land sites as well as various kinds of household utensils. We think, however, that the range of shapes will prove to be even wider when the cleaning and study of the thousands of sherds so far recovered have been completed.

The commonest shapes are bowls, sauceboats, basins, wide-mouthed jars with plastic bands, and amphoras; utensils include "spit-supports”, braziers, and baking trays.

An interesting feature of the pottery so far studied from the 1989 and 1990 campaigns was the presence of Cycladic elements; this confirms the initial impression formed of the pottery at the time of the discovery of the cargo in 1975.

The three commonest shapes are bowls, sauceboats and amphoras, which are represented by many dozens of sherds; the first two are the commonest EH II types in southern and central Greece and on the islands of the Saronic and Argolic gulfs (for a good summary of EH II pottery, see Caskey 1960, 290-292, fig. 1; 1968, 315, Lerna III).

The two Early Bronze Age stone anchors

In the course of reconnaissance dives made in 1989 west of the main site two stone slabs were found, each with a perforation near its edge.

The first (A144), which is roughly triangular in shape, was at a depth of 34 m and some 33 m west of point 8 on the perimeter of the wreck . It was lying relatively close to the shore on a rocky bottom with patches of sand.

The second (A155), nearly circular in shape, was found at a depth of 38 m, 46 m west of point 8 on the wreck perimeter and 14 m southwest of the first slab and on a similar bottom . When they were found, both slabs were wedged among the rocks with their perforations uppermost and pointing eastward in the direction of the wreck. Both slabs were photographed in situ and their positions fixed by measuring their distances from different points on the perimeter of the main site and from each other.

Before they were raised, we tried an experiment: ropes were fastened to the holes and two people standing on the diving raft stationed over the middle of the site attempted to haul in the slabs. We found that it took a great effort by the two people just to shift the slabs from their position. Next we tried to heave them up, and the two team members stationed a boat directly over the two slabs and hauled first on one and then on the other of the ropes. This time it required less exertion to move the slabs, but still called for a considerable effort.

The initial observations made at the time the slabs were found and the subsequent examination of them after they were raised both suggest that they are in all probability Early Age Bronze stone anchors and directly associated with the Dokos underwater site.

Study of the anchors: Preliminary results

1. The shapes of the stone slabs, their weight, the location of the holes and the technique used to drill them are all typical features of Bronze Age anchors. The fact that they each have only one hole for the anchor rope, as well as their relatively slight weight, the nature of the bottom where they were found and their positions on the seabed are all indications that they were anchors intended for use on rocky bottoms; they are in fact typical Early Bronze Age anchors according to Honor Frosts's classification.

All these facts, in addition to the breaks and edge damage which are clear evidence of their repeated use, rule out the likelihood that they were weights used by divers, although Honor Frost does not exclude that possibility. Stones used as diving weights are usually left on the bottom after the dive, and in any case do not suffer the kind of wear and tear that would cause this kind of damage.

2. Bearing in mind their distances from the site of the cargo site and their positions to the west of it, it is not unreasonable to suggest that they probably belonged to the EH II ship. For if the vessel were anchored in approximately the position of the present wreck site and were caught by a strong westerly wind, which is the only one that seriously agitates the sea in the little bay of Skindos, and if it then broke up on the rocky shore and sank, its anchors would have been in just about the same positions as our two: that is, approximately 40 metres west of the bottom site and with the holes for the anchor ropes orientated in its direction.

3. The number, size and especially the weight of the anchors suggest that they belonged to a relatively small vessel of perhaps 5 to 10 tons and 12 to 15 m in length. This supersedes our earlier estimate of the vessel's size, which was based on the relatively large cargo it seemed to have been carrying.

This estimate, of course, hangs on the fact that only two rather small anchors have so far been found. The excavation must first be completed and the surrounding area thoroughly explored before we can say for sure whether or not the ship carried more than two anchors and if so, whether they were larger than these two. Much larger Bronze Age anchors have been found in the eastern Mediterranean, and the ships there usually carried a number of anchors, but even if we do not find any more anchors at Dokos, this does not necessarily mean that our vessel was a small one, because relatively nothing is in fact known about EH ship types, sailing techniques or methods of anchoring. They were probably long light craft propelled by oars, like those depicted on the EH II "frying pans” from Syros, the one on the EH sherd from Orchomenos or the clay model from Palaikastro. Such vessels could easily have been hauled up onto a beach or anchored in some sheltered cove, with lines made fast to rocks ashore. Also EH ships may not have possessed the necessary superstructures and gear for heaving up the large heavy anchors that the Late Bronze Age ships of the eastern Mediterranean carried.

Study of the Dokos finds

The cataloguing, drawing and photographing of the finds, as well as the classification of their features and the tasks and problems connected with their conservation are processed on our Apple Macintosh computer. The computer prints out inventory cards containing all the above information, including statistical data giving, for example, the frequency of each pottery type, or the shapes of the querns and the total number of pots in the Dokos cargo or cargos.

At the same time the treatment and conservation of the finds by a team of conservationists continues in the Spetsai Museum laboratory that the HIMA has organized and equipped for this purpose.

General Conclusion

The great quantity of Early Helladic II pottery from the Dokos cargo site is important not only for the variety of its types and sizes, but especially because it constitutes the only possibly closed find of this nature with EH II pottery hitherto known from the Aegean. The Late Helladic sherds, the teeth and bone fragments were chiefly found together with the EH sherds in the lower levels of the second trial trench. They cannot, however, be regarded as a part of the large closed find of pottery, which for the most part came from the surface level of the site, but rather as refuse dumped from the land; this is only to be expected in a place that has been used as a natural harbour from prehistoric times to the present day.

On the basis of the results obtained so far it seems that the great mass of Early Helladic II pottery recovered from the underwater site at Myti Kommeni on Dokos was part of the cargo of one or more EH ships that foundered, capsized or jettisoned their load in this bay. The bay formed a natural harbour, which would no doubt have always been the scene of much activity and movement due to the settlement, possibly a trading station, on the Myti Kommeni promontory during the Early Helladic period (3rd millennium BC).

The large quantity of millstones found on the main underwater site might well be part of the ship's cargo and/or ballast.

Many of the small finds such as the animal teeth, obsidian, spindle-whorl fragments and small pieces of mudbrick that have been found on the sea bottom might well have washed down from the EH settlement site on the shore and should therefore be regarded as stray finds.

The picture of the underwater site at Dokos is further clouded by the presence (although very limited) among the EH pottery of plain and decorated Mycenaean sherds representing the three main phases of the Mycenaean period: Late Helladic I, II and III.

This Mycenaean material clearly came from the large Mycenaean settlement on the headland, parts of which have now been uncovered by the land excavation.

The projected 1992 campaign at Dokos, which will include a full-scale geological and geomorphological survey of the area, is expected to shed further light on the nature of the whole site.