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Sunken City Found Volume 52 Number 6, November/December 1999
by Kristin M. Romey

[image] The banks of Lake Paliostomi, with ceramic material in the foreground (INA/Dan Davis) [LARGER IMAGE]

A joint Georgian-American expedition has recovered artifacts that they believe establish the location of Phasis, the legendary destination of Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. Underwater archaeologists have discovered part of a settlement inhabited from at least the fourth century B.C. to the eighth century A.D. under the waters of Lake Paliostomi, on the central coast of the Republic of Georgia. Numerous ancient authors, including Strabo, Arrian, and Aristotle, provided descriptions of the city that have allowed previous scholars to determine that Phasis was located in the general vicinity of Poti, a major military and commercial port of the former Soviet Union.

Finds from the survey, which consisted of members from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) at Texas A&M University and the Center for Archaeological Studies (CAS) of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, coordinated by the non-profit organization Pipeline Archaeology for the Recovery of Knowledge (PARK) Inc., include coins as well as domestic and imported ceramic household items.

A flourishing city at the Black Sea terminus of the ancient Silk Road, Phasis was a primary trading point for goods from the Russian steppes, Central Asia, the Near East, and the Mediterranean world. The Greeks established a settlement at Phasis in the late-seventh-early-sixth century B.C. and lived alongside the native Colchian population, who were assimilated in the Hellenistic Period. Built at sea level, Phasis may have resembled an ancient Venice with its many moats and canals. Archaeologists believe that a combination of the gradual settling of the city into the alluvial silt, together with a sea level rise of several feet over the past 2,000 years, may have contributed to the disappearance of Phasis from the historical record around the end of the Byzantine period (ca. A.D. tenth century.).

The expedition plans to return to Lake Paliostomi next summer, searching for structural features mentioned in ancient sources, including temples to Apollo and Artemis, a mint, and what has been described as an antiquities museum that, according to Arrian's Periplus, featured the original anchor from Jason's ship, the Argo.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America