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Sharp-eyed snorkeller finds long-lost port

Sharp-eyed snorkeller
Hidden in plain sight: ancient port structure at Kabakum Yolu (@denemorhun)

A deep dive isn’t always necessary to make exciting underwater discoveries – sometimes they can be hidden in plain sight in the shallows.

A Turkish diver has uncovered the ancient remains of a previously unsuspected Aegean port dating back to the 4th century BC – and he was using nothing more than a Decathlon full-face snorkelling mask at the time. 

Denem Orhun, 39, works as a software developer with music publisher TuneCore in New York, but in the summer of 2020 had returned to his home country for a holiday with his wife’s family in Izmir province.

He was snorkelling close to shore north of the town of Dikili, which faces the Greek island of Lesvos. “It’s pretty shallow there but there is some kind of reef, teeming with wildlife,” Orhun told Divernet. “It’s the most amazing reef I’ve seen in the Aegean Sea, in fact. Then the depth quickly descends, but I was snorkelling at around 2m.”

That was when Orhun noticed what looked like the remains of columns on the seabed. Because his mother had been an archaeologist he had been interested in the subject since childhood, and decided to investigate the site further. 

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Sharp-eyed snorkeller
The port entrance (@denemorhun)
Sharp-eyed snorkeller
Denem Orhun

He later returned with a drone to capture aerial images of the location, noting remains that appeared to have been built according to what he described as a “basilica plan” – as in churches with a central nave flanked by aisles separated by rows of columns, and an apse at one end.

Orhun showed his findings to archaeologists from Celal Bayar University who had been excavating the ancient city of Pergamon, about 40km from Dikili, and they took action. Experts brought in by Turkey’s Ministry of Culture & Tourism then carried out their own year-long research.

Now they have pronounced that what Orhun found is the three-section pier of a long-lost port that once served the Greek city-state of Atarneus or Atama. 

The port entrance is set to the east of the site, which is built on an east-west axis and consists of a portico with tripartite colonnades and an apse on the open sea side. 

First-degree

In the 4th century BC Atarneus flourished as the seat of government of the Greek tyrant Hermias, and the city was also associated with the philosopher Aristotle, who was Hermias’ son-in-law. 

Atarneus was abandoned by its inhabitants in the 1st century BC, possibly because of an epidemic, but its port is believed to have stayed in use as late as the Ottoman period, which began around 1300 AD.

However, at some point tectonic movement caused the structures to collapse into the sea and the harbour to be forgotten.

The site has now been declared a “first-degree” protected area by the Izmir Cultural Heritage Preservation Board. “I am happy to have done my duty as a citizen,” said Orhun. 

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