POINT IRIA WRECK



Discovery and excavation

The wreck at Point Iria was a chance discovery by the present president of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeogy (H.I.M.A.) Nikos Tsouchlos, in 1962. In 1971 Tsouchlos paid a second visit to the wreck with the archaeologist Charalambos Kritzas, Peter Throckmorton and Bruno Vailati, who filmed and photographed the site. Their first impression at the time was that it was a cargo ship of the Geometric or Archaic period. In 1990 the archaeologist Charalambos Pennas directed a survey which was organized and carried out by the Institute.

It took four continuous excavation periods under the direction of Charalambos Pennas, from 1991-1994, to plan and excavate the area of the wreck, which was spread over some hundred square metres on a sloping bottom with sandy intervals and patches of concretions and rocks. The areas east and west of the wreck were also investigated, and many finds of earlier, contemporary and later periods were located, from which we concluded that the locality was a highly dangerous one for shipping. The objects we discovered and raised consisted chiefly of pottery, but we also found a stone anchor and different sized stones and river stones that may have formed part of the ship's ballast, as well as small pieces of wood and some organic remains.

The cargo of the ship


The ship, which was wrecked shortly before it was able to round Point Iria, was carrying a mixed cargo of pottery consisting chiefly of large transport vessels (Cypriot pithoi and LH/LM IIIB 2 pithoid jars) and medium size ones (Cretan stirrup-jars, Cypriot jugs and an amphora with incised linear signs). The various small pots, like the cooking pots and juglet, may have belonged to the crew. Lastly, the cargo also included a few decorated Mycenaean vases in fine ware (a deep bowl krater and one or two deep bowls). Dates for all these finds, irrespective of their provenance, of around 1200 BC leave no doubt that they all belonged to the cargo of the same ship.

A preliminary study of the pottery from the Iria wreck shows that it comprises one of the rarest and most important assemblages of pottery to have been found so far in Greek waters. The petrographic examination of the clay of the vases by Dr. Peter Day is expected to produce valuable supplementary evidence for the origins of the ship's cargo. His preliminary study, parts of which we shall be presenting, reinforces our initial observations about the provenance and date of a large part of the finds.

A small stone anchor of composite type with three holes was found at a depth of 13 metres just above the main pottery concentration. It weighs some 25 kgs and is made from conglomerate rock. Its position a little higher up than the main concentration of the cargo is a possible indication that it belonged to the Cypriot ship, but it canot be dated with certainty from its type and shape. The petrological analysis that will be made may produce more evidence for its provenance.

Two more stone anchors, one with a single hole and the other with three, were found close to Point Iria, but their considerable distance from the site of the wreck (about 150 metres) eliminates any possibility that they belong to it.

A few small pieces of wood that were found may have come from the ship, but the hull itself has not survived. Three organic remains are of considerable interest; when they were found buried in the sand, they were cylindrical, but they lost all their shape when they were brought to the surface. They were probably pieces of rope like those found in the Cape Gelidonya wreck. An examination of the wood and probable pieces of rope hopefully will tell us what they were and their date. The complete absence of metal objects, in spite of careful excavation and surveying the whole wreck area with a metal detector, is curious.



Possible causes of the wreck


The Iria ship must have been wrecked by the sudden onset of bad weather which drove it onto the rocky shore before it was able to weather Point Iria. This is concluded from the fact that the wreck lies some 10 metres from the shore and that the cargo is scattered about haphazardly. Our own personal experience during the four months we were working on the wreck, in the course of which we had heavy seas and high winds that twice snapped the cables holding our floating platform, and the information supplied by the local fishermen, both confirmed that the locality of the wreck is very dangerous for vessels approaching from the west. The force with which the ship struck the rocks as it was driven by the west wind is perhaps indicated by the position of the deep bowl krater 50 metres to the south of the main concentration of the cargo. The deep bowl krater, an open, relatively light vase, must have been carried some distance away before it slowly filled and sank to the bottom.

This hypothesis perhaps tells us something about the final route of the ship. After leaving the harbours at the northwest end of the Gulf of Argos, it was sailing towards the eastern part.

Conclusions


On the basis of the results from the 1990 - 1994 investigations at Point Iria, the Cypro-Mycenaean wreck can be securely dated to the end of the 13th Century BC. The cargo already raised from the wreck site, contains a mixture of Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery and is very likely to belong to a Cypriot ship heading towards the Argolid. The size of the cargo, combined with the presence of a substantial Cretan group of transport jars, points to a boat of medium size that sailed from a harbour in southern Cyprus. It sunk off Point Iria, perhaps, before reaching its final destination, at some harbour town in eastern Argolid.

As a one-period underwater cargo find, the pottery so far known from the Iria wreck, which is Cretan-Mycenaean, Helladic-Mycenaean and Cypriot, presents an instructive chronological homogeneity. It is also extremely interesting that this body of pottery includes typical forms of Cretan-Mycenaean and Cypriot transport vases that were very widespread during the 13th century BC, i.e. the stirrup-jars and the pithoi, whose distribution covers a wide area of the Mediterranean. Within the framework of the long-distance trade of the period, their traffic can now be followed from the coast of Syria (Ugarit), Cyprus and Ulu Burun in Lycia, as far as Agrigento in Sicily, the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily and Sardinia. The Cypro-Mycenaean wreck site of Iria gives valuable material evidence for trade and navigation during the Late Mycenaean period in the Aegean and beyond. It also throws new light on one of the most crucial periods of Greek and Cypriot protohistory, a period during or at the end of which the breakdown began of the Great Mycenaean Koine in the Eastern Mediterranean.

It confirms the links between the Argolid and Cyprus at the end of the 13th century BC. Such contacts and commercial transactions must have been frequent, because we are not dealing here with a special shipment ordered by some central authority, but with a humble, "everyday” trading expedition. Crete forms a natural intermediate stopping point on the Argolid-Cyprus sea-route, from the point of view of both navigation and trade, given the close relations between what was now Mycenaean Crete and the Argolid and the traditional Cyprus-Crete connection. A similar conclusion was reached by Prof. Thomas Palaima in his important paper "Maritime matters in the Linear B Tablets”.

We have to do with a wreck within the context of close Cypro-Mycenaean contact without the presence of objects coming from other civilizations. In contrast to the ships of Ulu Burun and Cape Gelidonya, the Iria ship made its final voyage, at least, from Cyprus to the Argolid in the midst of a predominantly Mycenaean environment of the time.