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The Prehistoric Settlement of Pavlopetri in Peloponnese, Greece

Pavlopetri is a semi-submerged prehistoric town that is located in the south-eastern Laconia Greece (picture 1-4) (Henderson et al. 2011). First in 1904 some archaeological remains where identified under water at the location by a geologist named Fokion Negris, but the significance of the site was only realised, after its re-discovery in 1967 by N. Flemming who confirmed the existence of a prehistoric town (Henderson et al. 2011, 208).

In 1968 a team from Cambridge University conducted an underwater survey of the location which resulted in a plan of the town covering an area of c. 300 x 100 m in 1-4m depth (Henderson et al. 2011, 208). Apart from the architectural remains found underwater, the site was expanding to the south on the Pavlopetri Island where remains of walls and other archaeological materials were evident. In addition, a cemetery of 60 cut-rock graves was found on the shore dating to the Early Helladic Period (3000 – 2000 BC).However, the main percentage of pottery discovered was suggesting that the site was flourishing during the Mycenean period (1650-1180 B.C.)(Henderson et al. 2011, 208). In May 2009, a new 5-year program of the archaeological survey and excavation with the contribution of new technologies begun with the collaboration of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Nottingham and the Ephoreia of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism)(Henderson et al. 2011, 208). According to what the latter research discovered, the town of Pavlopetri covers at least an area of 50.000 m2 with many buildings (Henderson et al. 2011, 207)(The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project)(picture 5). The new on-site findings confirmed the previous speculations of a Mycenaean occupation, but also highlighted the existence of a settlement already from 3500 B.C., making Pavlopetri the oldest known submerged town in the world (The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project). Evidence suggests that the town submerged 2-3 m. sometime around 2000 BP (Henderson et al. 2011, 216) due to tectonic factors.

The prehistoric settlement of the Pavlopetri is an important maritime cultural heritage for a number of reasons. This specific location to create a town may unveil stories about the relationship between prehistoric people and maritime landscapes. As a Mycenaean settlement, Pavlopetri can reveal information regarding the social structure and the way of life in the Mycenaean society (The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project). But the added value of Palvopetri is that it is actually a maritime settlement, in contrast with the well-known citadels and palaces in the mainland of that era such as Mycenae and Tyrins (The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project). This fact could shed light on the mechanisms of the trade regulations and the trade networks in the Aegean and beyond during this period and consequently it could show the role and the economic value of this particular settlement in the maritime trade (Henderson et al. 2011). But the evidence, like pottery, suggest that Pavlopetri had developed a trade tradition already from the Neopalatial period (1700 – 1425 B.C.) and had close trade relations with the palaces of Minoan Crete (The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project), a factor that may have played a vital role in strengthening its economic and trade position in the Mycenaean world (Henderson et al. 2011, 217). The trade and the consumption of exotic prestige goods in Bronze Age in the Aegean has thought to be the motivation behind a more centralized system of trading that powered changes in the social – political networks. (Kramer-Hajos 2016, 128). New evidence from the Pavlopetri could reveal more information connected to the rise of the Mycenaean palaces and the elites (Kramer-Hajos 2016, 128) and the role of the sea trade in this equation. One more question that needs to be answered is whether the town of Pavlopetri was an important palatial centre in the Aegean world or just a trade centre supplying the Mycenaean palaces in the mainland with the exotic goods. The vital role of maritime life in the Aegean Bronze Age is also depicted in the Akrotiri (Thera) frescos. In one particular, a 6 metre fresco of a procession or escort of ships in miniature is interpreted as a representation of a seasonal maritime festival, highlighting the symbolic meaning that sea had for the inhabitants of the island (Kramer-Hajos 2016, 128)(picture 6). Time will tell if any symbolic representation of maritime life would be found in Pavlopetri as well. 

Furthermore, vital information to answer how Bronze Age people dealt with the maritime landscapes could also be obtained in this example, proving importance of Pavlopetri as a maritime cultural heritage site. More specifically, the use of a sandy and well-protected bay as a harbour, as there is no evidence of an artificial one, is for sure a sign of the way the inhabitants chose to make use of the maritime landscape (Henderson et al. 2013). Perhaps the existence of a natural harbour it was one of the main reasons that attracted the inhabitants to create a settlement at this specific location (Henderson et al. 2011, 215). The beginning of the late Bronze Age in the Aegean, witnesses additional changes in the maritime practices such as the creation of a new type of ship (Kramer-Hajos 2016, 130). The creation of the Mycenaean galley, a smaller and lighter for optimum speed ship, to fulfil the needs of the demanding expansion of trading in the Aegean is an evidence of intense mobility in the Aegean seas (picture 7)(Kramer-Hajos 2016, 130).

The research on the location is still continuing today and the results have not been fully published yet, but there is no doubt that Pavlopetri was an important Bronze Age town and port and a main trade centre of the Mycenaean world in the Aegean (Henderson et al. 2011, 217).  

By : Makridou Paraskevi