Seven hundred meters north-east of Elafonisos, there is a tiny island that the seabirds always visit. Its name is "Pavlopetri" after which the whole surrounding area was named. The islet of Pavlopetri, a second smallest island at a distance of about 400 m and the coast of Pounta form an isosceles triangle where the remains of a sunken settlement are preserved. The beginning of its existence reaches as far as 5,000 years in the past...
According to the latest surveys it is one of the oldest submerged cities in the world and covers about 50 acres. It includes entire ground floors of building complexes, courtyards, streets, chamber-tombs and cist graves. In particular, the ceramic fragments collected by the archaeologists have led to the conclusion that it is a prehistoric settlement that was occupied for the first time in the Neolithic Period between 4500-3200 BC and extended over time throughout all three seasons of the Bronze Age but flourished particularly in the Early Bronze Age 3300-2000 B.C. and in the Late Bronze Age 1600-1100 BC. (Mycenaean civilization). A rare phenomenon is that Pavlopetri was continuously inhabited from 3.000-1.100 BC.
Some researchers claim that the Pavlopetri's size and location probably indicate that it was probably the Capital of the Vatica plain in the prehistoric period. Also, Pavlopetri is at the crossroads "Elafonisos-Kythira-Antikythira-Crete" and the commercial connection to these places is very likely. Pithos fragments and loomweights found may attest a commercial activity, but also a kind of "craft industry" of the time. In general all ceramic fragments revealed, appear to have influences from Minoan, Kytherian, Cycladic and Laconic patterns. But only an extensive excavation research will bring to light the actual role that Pavlopetri played during this extended period of time.
Of great interest is the fact that this submerged settlement is accessible to visitors. The water is clear and its depth does not exceed 3 meters, which allows anyone on his own, just with a pair of flippers and a mask to tour around the area, to discover the streets of the settlement, the foundations of the buildings and the tombs and to feel first-hand its unique power and magic. The cemetery on the shore of Pounta, the quarry, the channel and the lake Stroggyli are accessible on foot. The visitors' tour to Pavlopetri must be done with absolute respect and love for the surrounding area.
Findings from the prehistoric settlement of Elafonisos are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Neapolis. Also, the Archaeological Museum of Pylos in Niokastro includes in its collection two Pithos that were pulled out from Pavlopetri during the excavation that took place in 2011.
THE DISCOVERY OF PAVLOPETRI
In 1904 geologist Fokionas Negris was the first to observe the architectural remains of the sunken settlement. But the importance of his discovery was not widely recognized at that time. His observations were confirmed after several years with the oceanographer Nicholas Flemming's visit of the area. In 1967, in his attempt to study sea-level changes in the Aegean, he re-discovered the ruins of the submerged prehistoric settlement..
1st ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION OF PAVLOPETRI
In 1968, an expedition was formed by the Cambridge University Underwater Exploration Group to survey the remains and find evidence of their date and of when and how the site was submerged. The seven-member team investigated the area for six weeks and captured the visible submerged residues with high accuracy with the help of a grid, consisting of intersecting gridlines. The Greek archaeological team, led by the well-known archaeologist Angelos Delivorias, also participated in the survey. The archaeological research of 1968 did not excavate the site but was limited to surface finds. Ceramic fragments collected by the researchers led to the conclusion that it is a prehistoric settlement that extends over time in all three seasons of Bronze Age (Early, Middle, Late) but flourished particularly during the Early and Late Season, which includes the Mycenaean years.
The visible remains in the submarine site were divided by the archaeological group into 10 areas (A-K), where 15 houses are distinguished consisting of a series of rooms usually around 10 in number. If we allow a house with ten rooms on its ground floor, say, Twenty people, including children and servants, we reach a population of 6oo). The actual figure may have been much greater. No two houses are the same, but the recurring feature is a large central room, rectangular or not, that could have been an inner courtyard).
Time and the underwater environment have obviously left indelible marks on the remains of the submerged settlement. So what we can see today is only the ground floor of the city's buildings. Thus only the very base of the wall was stone, probably to prevent the foundations from being eroded away by rain and water running down the streets. On this stone foundation were based the upper portions of the brick-built walls, i.e. unbaked bricks made of clay and straw that molded them and dried them in the sun and air. Obviously that would explain why after the settlement sank, the walls were completely destroyed. This particular way of building was adopted in many other parts of the Peloponnese and it could b encountered even 50 years ago.
Building with ritual character
Among the buildings there is one of particular technique that seems to belong to an earlier era. The east side in fact consists of only ten stones. At the north and south ends are small apses of rather smaller stones, several standing on their side like the sides of a cist-grave. Here, Early Helladic conical cups were found in the stones of the walls. It may have been used for ritual but the purpose of this apsidal building is unknown and will be clarified only perhaps by excavation.
The streets of Pavlopetri are about 5 meters wide and one of their characteristic features is that they have been built aligned with the houses, a feature that can be observed in the construction of modern Elafonisos. They are also filled with small stones and sometimes are paved. It is possible that the paving, may not be a human construct, but the result of ruined walls from the chronic effect of the waves.
An integral feature of the underwater site are the about 40 cist - graves. We can find them between the buildings of the sunken settlement or within them, under the floors of the houses, even within the walls. They are made up of four upright calcareous plaques and form a usually rectangular quadrilateral. A fifth plaque covers the grave.
The cemetery on the shore
The archaeological team also mapped the extensive cemetery on Pounta's shore, which includes at least 60 tombs carved in the surface of the rock. Some tombs were partly or completely destroyed during the construction of the channel leading to the salt lake and by later quarrying activities. Several of them are now submerged.
Quarry, channel, Strongyli Lake
On the shore there are visible traces of shale quarrying, which is abundant in the area. The existence of the quarry probably dates back to the Roman era, when probably the channel was dug through three tombs of the cemetery. Its purpose was to channel water into the lagoon so that after its evaporation, salt could be collected. On the canal during the same period a bridge was built probably to facilitate the quarry works. In 1968 it was recorded by the British archaeological team. Today, however, it is totally destroyed by ignorance or neglect.
2009: NEW SURVEY SEASON
After the 1968 survey, Pavlopetri was declared an archaeological site and its protection was undertaken by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. In 2009, the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities with a team of archaeologists and experienced divers in collaboration with the University of Nottingham and the British School at Athens began a five-year program to outline the history and evolution of the submerged city of Pavlopetri. The general direction of the mission was undertaken by the well-known archaeologist Ilias Spondylis with many years of experience in submerged settlements in the wider area of Laconia. Also, in collaboration with the Greek Hellenic Center for Marine Research, this specific project aims to determine how and when the city and the Elafonisos Strait became submerged).
With the use of advanced technology, archaeologists have identified the known area of the remains since the 1968 expedition but also discovered and surveyed more than 9,000 m² of newly exposed building complexes that were probably covered by sand deposits in previous years. The effect of the waves and the marine currents in the area are apparently related to the movement of large volumes of sand on the north side of the area. Among the findings, there were 4 new cist-graves as well as a recently exposed pithos burial. The suggestion that the buildings were recently exposed was borne out by the cleaner appearance of the stonework in the new areas compared to the older areas, which have well-established marine algal species and encrusting marine organisms (especially sponges and sea urchins). The new research has expanded the area of the submerged settlement from 30 to about 50 acres.
In addition, the 2009 survey brought to light new ceramic evidence indicating that the site was occupied for the first time in the Final Neolithic period and not in the Early Helladic II as had been suggested till that time. Therefore, the life of the settlement starts much earlier. The ceramics of the Final Neolithic period show affinities with findings from modern settlements and areas with caves in Laconia. Some pottery shards have been uncovered, dating to the Protogeometric, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. This has broadened the time-span of the settlement, or at the very least, of some sections of it. It is obvious that the underwater site has been continuously inhabited and only a further archaeological excavation will shed more light on a series of questions, such as: when did the settlement flourish? Or when and how was it destroyed.
EXCAVATION SURVEY 2011 AND FINDS
In 2011, research took place in the settlement. In particular, two trenches were dug at points where the contours of buried pithos were visible. From the first section, two pithos were brought out, welded by the conservators of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. In fact, the way the second pithos is made, composed of three different pieces, is of great interest. These pithos can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Pylos in Niokastro. Findings from the prehistoric settlement of Elafonisos can also be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Neapolis.
Harding, Cadogan, Howell - The Annual of the British School at Athens - Pavlopetri, an Underwater Bronze Age Town in Laconia, 1969
Harding - Archaeology - Pavlopetri. A Mycenaean town underwater, 1970
Jon C. Henderson, Chrysanthi Gallou, Nicholas C. Flemming and Elias Spondylis, The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project: investigating an ancient submerged town
Spondilis, Ilias, Pavlopetri. The underwater research. Sparta, 24/10/2015