Dr. Sebastiano Tusa – Mediterranean and Sicilian Underwater Archaeology – State Library of South Australia – 27th July 2012
Abstract: Since the diffusion of scuba equipment invented by Cousteau and Gagnan after the end of World War II, underwater exploration became a very popular activity. It was due to the diffusion of such activity that many ancient wrecks, objects and submerged architectural remains were discovered and rescued. The use of such equipment gave to the archaeologists the possibility to apply almost the same scientific and technical methodologies to marine investigation. Simultaneously, looting and damaging of antiquities became one of the main problems for the protection of marine heritage because of the difficulties to control diving activities around Mediterranean. Restrictions and strict control was necessary to avoid the destruction of this important part of human cultural heritage. Now days all the coastal Mediterranean countries have adopted sets of laws to protect sea cultural heritage not only in national waters but also in international seas thanks to the UNESCO Convention set up in 2001.
After many decades of scientific investigation we have a rich frame of discoveries around the entire Mediterranean. We have a wide series of wrecks dating back to the Second millennium B.C. until the last century. Among wrecks we can distinguish a fairly wide variety of ship typology as well as cargo quality and quantity. Dealing with ancient periods we can frame in Mediterranean at least three main shipbuilding traditions: the “sewed”, the “hull first” and the “frame first” with a lot of sub typologies that are based mainly on local traditions. Among ancient ships we have only in Sicily an example of warship that was recovered and restored by Honor Frost and is now on display in the Museum of Marsala. It belonged to the Carthaginian fleet that was defeated by the Romans the 21 March 241 B.C. in the Aegades Islands north of Levanzo. In the same area we have done, in collaboration with RPM Nautical Foundation, a wide and deep research using advanced electronically based technologies that led us to the discovery of seven bronze ram and several helmets belonging to that battle.
Many other wrecks showed different varieties of cargo such as food, stone, bronze and marble sculptures and other kind of stuff. Among the most precious cargo we encounter those of Madhia and Antikythera rich in sculptures. To such types of cargo we can enclose the discovery of the bronze statue of a Satir coming from Sicily Trench and attributed to Praxiteles.
Recently some Mediterranean wrecks have been investigated using advanced technologies that gave the possibility to enlarge the knowledge on ancient trade systems. This was the case of some wrecks so far excavated along the French, Turkish and Sicilian coastal areas. In Sicily we had the chance to dig two late roman wrecks in Pantelleria and western part of the island that gave us a lot of information about late roman trade between north Africa and peninsular Italy passing through Sicily.
In Sicily we evaluate the underwater archaeological sites opening them to the public. Many wreck sites are organized and protected allowing a controlled visit making agreement with the local diving clubs. These underwater archaeological parks gave a good impulse to local touristic economy and increased the local concern towards such cultural heritage.