Major BBC documentary on ancient underwater city

14 Dec 2010 12:44:07.567

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The excavation of an ancient underwater city — dating back to 3500 BC — is to be the subject of a major new BBC Two television documentary.

This ground breaking project will feature the research of underwater archaeologist Dr Jon Henderson from The University of Nottingham. The programme will use state-of-the-art computer graphics to show what pre-historic Pavlopetri — a submerged city lying off the coast of Greece — would have looked like and how its people lived.

Dr Henderson said: “This documentary will follow us every step of the way as we carry out the first ever underwater excavations at this important site. And who knows what we will find? Given the good preservation of remains underwater we could recover organic items dating from the Greek Bronze Age which would be spectacular.

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Lying just metres off the coast in southern Laconia, Pavlopetri was discovered 40 years ago by oceanographer Dr Nic Flemming. In 1968, equipped with just snorkels and flippers, his team carried out the very first survey of the site. It remained untouched until last year when Dr Henderson, working in collaboration with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, was given permission to examine the site.

The dating of the architectural features and artefacts suggest the submerged city was inhabited for over two millennia from at least 3500 BC up until around 1100 BC. Throughout this period the settlement was likely to have had a population of between 500 and 2,000 people.

Dr Henderson and his team, together with Dr Flemming who has returned to Pavlopetri, are using some of the very latest computer technology to record the streets, the foundations of buildings, tombs and courtyards of the ancient city.

BBC television’s Factual Department plans to bring the city back to life through the latest CGI technology. The programme is due for transmission in 2012.

Dr Henderson said: “We have been very keen to use the latest survey technologies on this site to create an accurate three-dimensional record of the architectural remains on the seabed. Having the BBC onboard has allowed us to create amazing photo-realistic, computer-generated reconstructions of the site based on the actual survey data we have collected in the field.”



Over the last two years they have brought over 900 artefacts to the surface — among them fragments of jugs, plates, storage vessels, cooking pots and incense burners. These have now been recorded and photographed and removed by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Athens for conservation and storage.


Dr Henderson and his team will start excavating the site next year to establish the date and function of the buildings on the site and discover how and when it was submerged.  

The University of Nottingham has a broad research portfolio but has also identified and badged 13 research priority groups, in which a concentration of expertise, collaboration and resources create significant critical mass. Key research areas at Nottingham include energy, drug discovery, global food security, biomedical imaging, advanced manufacturing, integrating global society, operations in a digital world, and science, technology and society.

Through these groups, Nottingham researchers will continue to make a major impact on global challenges.


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Notes to editors:  The University of Nottingham, described by The Times as “the nearest Britain has to a truly global university”, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings.


The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 39,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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Story credits

More information is available from Dr Jon Henderson on +44 (0) 115 951 4842,

Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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