The armada of warships is believed to have been sent by Persian King Darius to invade Greece, according to ancient historical accounts. The research team included more than a dozen Greek, Canadian, American and Finnish scholars.
The project is being conducted in the seas off the Mt. Athos peninsula. "This survey is the first one where scholars have searched for fleets of ancient ships using an historical source--in this case the writings of Herodotus," said CU-Boulder History Professor Hohlfelder, a senior maritime archaeologist on the project.
Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived from 485 to 430 B.C., is often called "The Father of History." His extensive writings include a report that in 492 B.C., nearly 300 ships and more than 20,000 men perished in a severe storm off Mt. Athos.
The event was said to cause Persian King Xerxes to cut a canal through the narrowest part of Mt. Athos prior to his 480 B.C. invasion of Greece to avoid the need to round the peninsula in the Aegean Sea, said Hohlfelder.
The team used sonar from the R/V Aegaeo ship of the Hellenic Center for Marine Research, the manned Thetis submersible submarine and a remotely operated vehicle known as the Achilles for two weeks last October, said Hohlfelder. But ironically, it was an octopus that proved perhaps the most useful detector.
"We were a high-tech operation, but our most useful research tool turned out to be the octopuses that lived in these waters," said Hohlfelder. One octopus living in a ceramic pot 300 feet down had dragged broken pieces of pottery, stones and a bronze spear point with part of the wooden shaft still intact into the entrance of its home.