By Jean Christou
First underwater excavations on a rare shipwreck off Paralimni have revealed a small part of the side of the hull to be in a good state of preservation while several moveable finds included wooden rigging-elements, pistol bullets, ceramics, glass tableware and bricks, the antiquities department said on Wednesday.
The shipwreck, Nissia, which the department said probably dates to the late Ottoman period, is located 28 metres below sea level.
“It is the only shipwreck of this period known in Cyprus, and one of the few that are under investigation in the eastern Mediterranean,” it said.
The excavations, which took place over a two-week period in September last year, were conducted by the Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory (MARELab) of the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus, under the direction of Dr Stella Demesticha, in collaboration with the department of antiquities.
The movable finds were taken to the conservation laboratory of the department of antiquities in Larnaca, where they are being treated.
During the excavation, in which 24 people took part, including volunteer divers, a trial trench was opened on the eastern extremity of the shipwreck. A good part of the fieldwork was devoted to the lifting of an iron cannon – one of three – which was located some distance from the shipwreck’s main body, the department said.
According to University of Cyprus MARElab literature on the ship, the Nissia excavations are important because they could shed light on issues related to shipbuilding techniques and naval activity in the Eastern Mediterranean during that period.
It said the shipwreck was known among divers since the 1980s and due to its location and depth is easily accessible. However this resulted in it being transformed into “an uncontrolled recreation spot”, UCY said. “This resulted in destruction and looting, and the subsequent destruction of valuable archaeological evidence.”
“All the above, along with the fact high percentage of preservation of the wooden hull, which remained exposed to the natural deterioration factors was what led MARELab to launch a research programme on the site in collaboration with the department of antiquities.”
The Nissia Shipwreck Project aims to document and protect the site, to lift selected parts of the hull, and to implement new methods of in situ preservation.
One of the objectives of the project is to encourage the participation of the local community in the various phases of the archaeological research, UCY said. The attempts to approach the local community also aimed to increase awareness on issues related to the significance of underwater cultural heritage.
As a result, communication and collaboration was gradually developed between the archaeological research team and the divers who had been visiting the site in the past.
The main sponsors of the project were the Honor Frost Foundation (http://honorfrostfoundation.org/) and EDT Offshore Company. The research was also supported by Purplesnow Management Ltd and Paralimni Municipality.