Three historical shipwrecks uncovered in the Mediterranean

Jun 9, 2023, 5:00 AM

Roman shipwrecks on the Italian continental shelf included handled jars called amphoras. Photo cred...

Roman shipwrecks on the Italian continental shelf included handled jars called amphoras. Photo credit: V.Creuze ROV Drassm/UNESCO

(CNN) — An international team of scientists discovered three historical shipwrecks during an underwater archaeological expedition last year in the Mediterranean Sea.

The expedition also gathered high-resolution images of three Roman wrecks initially discovered by oceanographer Robert Ballard and archaeologist Anna Marguerite McCann in the 1980s to 2000s. Researchers’ findings were presented Thursday during a UNESCO press conference in Paris.

Twenty scientists from Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia set out on French research vessel the Alfred Merlin on a 14-day voyage between August and September.

Using remotely operated underwater vehicles, called ROVs, the researchers explored the Skerki Bank of Tunisia and Italy’s Sicilian Channel.

The team used the research vessel’s underwater mapping and imaging equipment to catalog shipwrecks, dating from ancient times to the 20th century, with sonar.

The ROVs dived to depths inaccessible to humans to collect images and video of the wrecks and their artifacts. One ROV, named Arthur, was able to reach depths of 2,296 to 2,952 feet (700 to 900 meters).

Located along a heavily traveled route in the Mediterranean, the Skerki Bank in the Strait of Sicily is one of the most treacherous maritime areas. Its shallow waters feature an intensely rocky seabed, some of which is less than 3.2 feet (1 meter) beneath the water’s surface.

The Skerki Bank’s perilous features have caused shipwrecks for more than 3,000 years, sinking ancient trading vessels as well as ships during World War II. The area is of interest to researchers because the route has served as a point of contact between multiple cultures traversing the Mediterranean.

An ROV named Hilarion descended through the most dangerous zone of the Skerki Bank called Keith Reef to conduct the first detailed study of the ocean floor. Resting along the bottom of the Tunisian continental shelf were three ships, all previously unknown to researchers.

Two of the shipwrecks were likely from the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th century, including a “large motorized metal wreck” with no traces of cargo. In that wreck, researchers noted that the davits, which would have been used to lower lifeboats, were facing outward, which means any crew may have been able to leave the ship. The second ship was likely a wooden fishing boat.

A third shipwreck was likely a merchant vessel that sailed between the first century BC and the second century. The ROV spotted artifacts that appeared to be amphoras, or tall, two-handled jars with narrow necks used by Greeks and Romans, possibly to store wine.

The team hopes that looking through archives could reveal the individual names of the ships that sank since none of them was easily identifiable.

Meanwhile, exploration along the Italian continental shelf revisited three Roman shipwrecks dating between the first century BC and the first century, including two merchant vessels and one cargo ship. All three littered artifacts across the seafloor, including amphoras, ceramics, building materials, jugs, pots and lamps.

The items were likely part of trade between cultures that crisscrossed the Mediterranean thousands of years ago.

“We are going to write a new page in the history of trade,” said Barbara Davidde, underwater archaeologist and director for the national superintendency for underwater cultural heritage in Italy. “Thanks to the analysis of the cargo, we can study the relationships between the countries in the Mediterranean and the sea trade that connected different parts of the Mediterranean.”

The shipwrecks and their artifacts surprisingly remained largely undisturbed since being discovered between 1988 and 2000.

The wrecks were initially outside territorial waters, meaning that their artifacts were easy targets for looting. Now, the areas around the wrecks will be protected under UNESCO’s 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The designation will allow for more precise mapping of shipwrecks and defining protection zones.

“We recognize the huge potential and the importance of underwater cultural heritage,” said Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

“UNESCO has actively committed itself to supporting underwater archaeological missions of this type right across the globe. As you know, the Mediterranean with its very rich history, and its countless shipwrecks and archaeological sites offer a unique and fascinating stage for such expeditions. And I hope that there will be many more in the future that will bring us together.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


Afghan relatives offer prayers during a burial ceremony near the graves of victims who lost their l...

Niamh Kennedy and Radina Gigova, CNN

At least 300 people killed by flash floods in Afghanistan

At least 300 people have died in flash flooding that has ravaged northern Afghanistan in recent days, the Word Food Programme said Sunday.

2 months ago

The Apple Store at Towson Town Center Mall in Maryland is pictured. Apple Store workers in Towson, ...

Jordan Valinsky, CNN

Apple Store workers in Maryland vote to authorize strike

Apple Store workers in Towson, Maryland made history by voting late May 11 in favor of authorizing a strike.

2 months ago

Smoke from wildfires blankets the city as a couple has a picnic in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, May...

Paradise Afshar and Sara Smart, CNN

Canadians evacuate due to wildfires as air quality deteriorates

Thousands across Canada were urged to evacuate from blazing wildfires on Saturday, and the smoke emanating from them could be another danger.

2 months ago

Salvage crew members work on the deck of the cargo ship Dali on Friday, May 10....

Nicole Grether and Gloria Pazmino, CNN

Crews could use explosives to demolish part of Baltimore’s Key Bridge

Crews are expected to execute a plan to use small explosives to break apart a massive chunk of the Baltimore bridge that collapsed.

2 months ago

The sun is rising with a flare over Korla, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China, on May 10....

Brian Fung, CNN

Why tonight’s massive solar storm could disrupt communications and GPS systems

An unusual amount of solar activity due to a solar storm this week could disrupt some of the most important technologies society relies on.

2 months ago

A customer wipes sweat from their face as they work out on a treadmill inside a Planet Fitness Inc....

Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN

Planet Fitness will raise its $10 membership plan for the first time in 26 years

Planet Fitness will raise the price of its “classic” membership from $10 a month to $15 for new members beginning in the summer.

2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

A young woman smiles while reading the menu at a lakeside restaurant, enjoying the panoramic view o...

Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau

The best restaurants to try in Bear Lake

Save this guide to the best restaurants in Bear Lake when you need to find a place to dine during your next visit.

Female leg stepping on weigh scales. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept....

Health Utah

Sustainable weight loss: the science-backed way to achieve it

Learn more about Debbie's weight loss journey with Health Utah, who have a unique weight loss philosophy for success.

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...


Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

Three historical shipwrecks uncovered in the Mediterranean