The Stone Ship

Little is known definitively about the stone ship.

The wreckage lies under 345 feet of water in the Black Sea. The anoxic waters of the sea preserve any organic material from the ravages of bacteria, so the ship and its cargo show remarkable lack of degradation. Despite its nickname, the ship may never have been seaworthy. It measures 80 cubits in length and 50 in width. The ship is constructed in the style of ancient Greek triremes, fully rigged to sail and bearing banks of oars, yet the hull is constructed of a stone material.

The ship was found during a sonar scan of the sea bed, for it lies beyond the limits of casual divers. Initially estimated to have an age from AD5-7, the ship was presumed to be the wreckage of a mercantile vessel due to its cargo.

In 1979, a diving expedition manned by a mixed crew of Turkish and Greek divers set out to explore the wreck. It was this expedition that discovered the nature of the ship, and brought up cargo for examination. What was presumed to be market goods turned out to be offerings to an unknown god. The divers lowered the estimated age from AD to BCE 5 or earlier upon examination of the ship’s odd construction. The offerings equally puzzled the crew.

The ship was laden with fat-necked amphora, stained a vivid maroon not present in any extant samples of Roman or Greek pottery. The urns were mostly intact and still sealed, one diver claimed they could still hear liquid inside. The divers also retrieved a sack of what was found to be birdseed laden with iron pellets.

The diving crew made plans to return to the site later. However, when it came time to weigh anchor, one of their number was missing. Basri Ataman had been diving with a partner, yet had failed to surface with the crew. His partner could give no explanation for the oversight.

The rescue crew found Ataman sitting cross-legged among the amphorae on the ship. He had wedged his feet in such a way that he would not rise, even after death. His eyes had turned red from subconjunctival hemorrhage.

A crew of three were able to unstick his body from the wreck, one used his oxygen inhaler to inflate Ataman’s suit to send him quickly to the surface.

At this point, the divers had no further interest in the site. One, however, found something next to the broken amphora Ataman had been sitting on. He brought the object to the surface with them for further study. In the dying light of the day, the crew examined the small statuette.

The ‘little goddess’ (as they dubbed her) was pure gold with lapis and garnet inlaid in the form of a skirt and blouse. Her hair was in the familiar style of Greek frescoes, colored with pine pitch. Where her eyes should have been, however, were two curling projections not unlike ram’s horns.

The divers had interred Ataman’s body in the hold and had plans to return to the wreck after depositing it on shore. They never got a chance.

A gas leak originating from the cargo hold ignited at approximately three in the morning. Most of the crew were killed. The captain and one diver, Phillip Markos, escaped with third degree burns. The captain managed to pilot the crippled ship to shore before expiring from his wounds. Markos was transported to a hospital in time to receive lifesaving skin grafts over three-fourths of his body. He lived two more years before a hotel maid found him dead in the bath. He had a purple scarf tied tightly around his neck, and his eyes bore subconjunctival hemorrhage. Though the coroner found the scarf had not been tight enough to cause asphyxiation, his death was ruled a suicide.

Of the statue, only Markos’s word and a single kodachrome photo remained. Markos denied knowledge of the statue’s whereabouts, only that he was awoken several times before the disaster by a peculiar droning noise originating from the cargo hull.

The amphorae were transferred to the Antalya Museum and sealed against further study. They and the photograph of the statue are now presumed lost during Turkey’s coup d’etat of 1980.

Later expeditions to the stone ship have been unsuccessful. Divers tell of a murkiness that surrounds the site, one that handheld lights cannot hope to alleviate.


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