In 2014, archaeologists from the University of Geneva were conducting dive-training exercises off Lambayanna Beach in Greece’s Kiladha Bay when they spotted some intriguing pottery fragments submerged near the shore. When they looked closer, they spotted what appeared to be architectural elements, suggesting the presence of an entire settlement underwater. Now, after conducting a full investigation of the site over the past two months, the researchers have uncovered what appears to be a sprawling, heavily defended city dating as far back as 2500 B.C.

Located south of Athens, on the Peloponnese Peninsula, the area around Kiladha Bay is home to many ancient Greek artifacts and settlements. The Greek government strictly regulates diving to prevent the looting of underwater archaeological sites, and the University of Geneva team was training at Lambayanna Beach in 2014 while waiting for authorization to conduct underwater searches nearby. At that time, they spotted the first pottery fragments now linked to a massive settlement submerged beneath the Aegean Sea. In July 2015, the archaeologists returned to the site to conduct a full investigation. Overseen by the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Culture, the researchers employed the world’s largest solar-powered boat, the PlanetSolar, to aid in their search.

According to their findings, several buildings can be seen amid the expansive ruins, which stretch over some 12 acres, or the equivalent of around 10 football fields. The buildings appear to be oval or circular in shape, and built in the same style as those known to have been constructed by other Bronze Age civilizations in Greece. More surprisingly, the ruins contain at least three horseshoe-shaped foundations attached to the wall line, which are believed to be the remnants of massive defensive towers of a type unknown elsewhere in Greece. As lead researcher Julien Beck, a professor at the University of Geneva, told Spero News: “The importance of our discovery is partly due to the large size….The chances of finding such walls under water are extremely low. The full size of the facility is not yet known. We do not know why it is surrounded by fortifications.”

ancient greece, bronze age
Remains of a street or wall at the Lambayanna site. (Credit: University of Geneva)

In addition to these structures, the archaeologists found paved surfaces that appear to be streets, as well as a wide array of pottery and stone tools. These include obsidian blades that the researchers say date to the Helladic period (3200 to 2050 B.C.), which archaeologists have divided into three phases. In all, the team has found more than 6,000 objects connected with the underwater settlement along the shoreline, making the site, in Beck’s words, “an archaeologist’s paradise.”

According to experts, while the Bronze Age economy in Greece was primarily agrarian, there is some evidence of technological advances related to metallurgy and mining. It also appears that a kind of market economy emerged along the Peloponnese coast, and the newly found site may have been heavily fortified because it served as a storage area for trade goods. Other civilizations existed around the same time, including the ancient Egyptians and the early inhabitants of what are now the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini. The submerged structures found by the researchers date to around the same time as the pyramids of Giza (built between 2600-2500 B.C.) and the early Minoan settlements on Crete (2700-1200 B.C.), but predate the first great Greek civilization, the Mycenaean (1650-1100 BC), by some 1,000 years.

Though the full impact of the newly discovered city is yet to be determined, Beck compared it in importance to the town of Lerna, located in the nearby Gulf of Nafplion. Mentioned in the Greek myth of Hercules—as the site of Hercules’ battle with the many-headed Hydra, guardian of the underworld—Lerna has long been used as a reference point for researchers because of the ceramics and architectural structures found there.

Beck and his colleagues do not venture a guess as to why the city sank below the ocean’s surface thousands of years ago, though rising sea levels and shifting tectonic plates have been suggested as possibilities. They also are not making any claims that the submerged city is Atlantis, the mythical island nation Western philosophers and historians have been searching for over the last 2,400 years. According to the great Greek philosopher Plato, that advanced, powerful early civilization suddenly disappeared into the ocean around 9600 B.C. Since the late 19th century, historians have renewed their efforts to link Atlantis to actual historical locations, notably including Santorini, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption circa 1600 B.C.