by Chuck Bednar
Recent excavations taking place in an ancient partially-submerged harbor town has led to the surprising discovery of well-preserved wooden caissons, as well as the revelation that the port’s entrance canal was far larger than previously believed.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have been using cutting-edge techniques to investigate the Lechaion, one of two Corinthian ports active from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE. The goal of their expeditions has been to discover the layout and scale of this once bustling harbor town.
As part of a research initiative known as the Lechaion Harbour Project (LHP), the research team has conducted a digital and geophysical survey of the sea-facing side of the harbor. The archaeologists have found two monumental moles (a large rock construction used as a pier, not the animal) constructed of ashlar blocks, a breakwater, and a smaller mole, as well as the wooden caissons and the inner-harbor’s stone-lined entrance canal.
“We have found and documented several monumental architectural structures, built at great expense, showing that Lechaion was developed as a grand harbor to match the importance of her powerful metropolis, Corinth,” Dr. Bjørn Lovén, a University of Copenhagen archaeologist and the co-director of the LHP, said in a statement.
First well-preserved caissons ever discovered in Greece
The caissons, Lovén and his colleagues explained, were single-mission barges build for the sole purpose of sinking to deposit building materials and form the port’s foundation. Similar methods were used by Roman engineers at the Caesarea Maritima site in Israel during the first century BCE.
The discovery marks the first time that well-preserved caissons with their wooden elements still intact have been discovered in Greece. Preliminary carbon dating indicates that they were built around the same time as Leonidas Basilica, the largest Christian church of its era. Construction on the basilica began in the middle of the fifth century.
Historically, experts believed that harbor facilities such as this site were originally constructed during the Greek and Roman period, then repaired during the Byzantine period. However, the discovery of the mole paints a different picture, as it is a rare example of major harbor work that took place during the later era, and could indicate that other such projects were underway at this time.
As for the entrance canal, the archaeologists have thus far found 180 feet (55 meters) of its sides, as well as evidence that it was likely located up to 148 feet (45 meters) farther out to sea than the modern shoreline. Lovén’s team is currently exploring how the site might have changed over the years due to changing sea levels and coastal subsidence.