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Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the remains of a long-lost ancient Greek city, Helike.
Classical texts suggest that all its inhabitants perished when the city sank beneath the waves after suffering a disastrous combination of earthquake and tidal wave.
Some scholars have speculated that the catastrophe may well have been the source of Plato’s story of Atlantis, a land that supposedly suffered a similar fate.
In the centuries following the disaster, several classical writers, including Pausanias and Ovid, reported that the ruins of Helike could still be seen below the waves from the surface.
After modern archaeologists spent four decades fruitlessly searching for Helike, the location of the ruins became as entangled in myth and conjecture as the legend they supposedly inspired.
However, when archaeologists turned their attentions inland however, they were rewarded with the first signs of what they believe may turn out to be an extremely significant discovery.
During the summer, Greek and American researchers drilled bore holes and used ground-penetrating radar to probe an area on a coastal plane near the small town of Aigion, 45 miles (72 km) north-west of Corinth.
They then narrowed their search, and began digging 3m deep trenches within an area of modern orchards and vineyards of about one square mile.
These revealed archaic walls, classical ceramic fragments and, perhaps most significantly, evidence that the ruins had been submerged beneath the sea.
“We uncovered archaic walls buried in clay containing sea shells,” said one of the researchers, Dr Steven Soter from the American Museum of Natural History.
Dr Soter told BBC News Online that the area was resettled in the centuries following the catastrophe after the ruins became buried under river sediments.
‘Follow the road’
Due to a general uplifting of the land, the site of Helike now lies about half a mile inland from the shore.
Among the expedition’s most significant finds were paving stones from what the team believes was a classical road, which could lead them closer to the main centre of the ancient site.
The next stage of the expedition, which researchers plan to begin next year is literally, as Dr Soter says, “to follow the road.”
“What we’ve uncovered so far is a mere glimpse… it’s a bit like uncovering a shipwreck the size of a city,” he says.
No-one can yet be sure what else will be found because of the scale of the earthquake and tidal wave that engulfed the city.
However, Dr Soter remains confident that what his team has uncovered already represents a major step forward in the search for Helike.