‘Tell me,’ says Damian, the hero of my latest book Aphrodite’s Tears, ‘how did you become so keen on archaeology?’
‘My father used to tell me tales of Atlantis as a child,’ replies the heroine, Oriel. ‘After that, I read anything I could lay my hands on, especially stories about lost cities… Bells tolling mysteriously under the water, that sort of thing.’
I confess, Oriel’s interest in lost cities echoes my own. Have you heard of Helice (or Helike)? It was a city, a major cultural and religious centre in Achaea (West Greece), which was destroyed by a tsunami in Ancient Greek times. According to accounts from the time, the disaster was preceded by columns of flame leaping into the sky and the mass evacuation of all wildlife, before the earthquake and resulting tidal wave saw the city entirely submerged, along with the ships in the harbour – and every single man, woman and child.
According to the Ancient Greeks, this was an act of the Poseidon, god of the sea and of earthquakes. For many years, people would sail over the submerged city, gazing down at the lost buildings and, among them, a bronze statue of Poseidon. But eventually the city was covered over with silt, and its location forgotten.
Enter the treasure hunters, the curiosity seekers, the adventurers – the archaeologists! For centuries they debated the location of Helice. In 2001, it was announced that the city had been found at last, in an ancient lagoon near the village of Rizomylos, and in 2012, experts claimed that their analysis of the destruction layer proved that this was indeed Helice.
I was fascinated to read, over the years, of the search for Helice. It sparked my imagination. I thought, how fascinating and exciting it would be to search for the city.
In Aphrodite’s Tears, Damian, traveller, archaeologist and owner of the Greek island of Helios, is well-versed in the stories relating to Ancient Greece. I write:
‘Helice is supposedly somewhere on the Gulf of Corinth. We know it was engulfed by a giant tidal wave and that the Ionians had built a temple there, dedicated to Poseidon, but little else.’ Damian’s eyes had a look of boyish excitement as he recollected his childhood passion. ‘Although there was a ferryman who was quoted a century after the disaster saying that he could remember seeing a massive bronze statue of Poseidon lying there, like a hazy mirage under his boat, in the midst of the drowned ruins.’
‘Under many feet of mud now, I imagine,’ noted Oriel wryly.
‘Mind you, it’s the dream of such finds that keeps us archaeologists going.’
Damian has employed Oriel to supervise the exploration of a shipwreck found off the coast of Helios. On the wreck they find an amphora (jar) whose seal is that of a Roman named Marcus Sestius. Their research tells them that he was a trader who lived in Helice and who collected bronze statues – like the Poseidon of Helice?
‘It was like following a treasure trail,’ I write, ‘laid thousands of years ago, and now that the first clue was solved Oriel couldn’t wait to revisit the wreck. Undoubtedly there were a lot more mysteries hidden in the argosy’s watery grave.’
As their investigations continue, a startling – and thrilling – possibility occurs to the intrepid archaeologists: that the lost city of Helice was, in fact, situated on Helios.
Can it be? Will Oriel and Damian make this archaeological breakthrough? ‘It’s the dream of such finds that keeps us archaeologists going’… Can their dreams come true, with the discovery of the ultimate sunken treasure?