Exploration of Wrecks in Mediterranean for UNESCO
An archaeological mission under the auspices of UNESCO has concluded its 14-day exploration of the Skerki Bank in Tunisia and the Sicilian Channel in Italy. For the first time, international scientists from eight member states have modeled the shipwrecks and improved the mapping of the area in order to protect important underwater cultural heritage.
Researchers from Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia collaborated for this mission. It took place over 14 days, aboard the French scientific vessel Alfred Merlin in international waters, on the Italian Continental Shelf under the coordination of Italy, then on the Tunisian Continental Shelf under the coordination of Tunisia.
The archaeologists led a survey using two ROVs. The robot Arthur, designed especially for archaeological surveys in deepwater, was used to document three Roman shipwrecks on the Italian Continental Shelf that were discovered by the Ballard-McCann American expeditions in the 1990s. These shipwrecks and artifacts were in almost the same condition as they were nearly 30 years ago; they have not been impacted by sedimentation, bioerosion or human activities (fishing, etc.). The new data collected allows for higher resolution photos and videos that help to characterize and date the ships’ cargo.
On the Tunisian Continental Shelf, the archaeologists used the robot Hilarion to verify and document the targets of the newly mapped area. The seabed was also explored with multibeam sonar to give more information about this area, which is unknown and dangerous for navigation, and on the potential location of other archaeological remains.
The area around the Keith Reef was scanned for the first time in order to produce a detailed map showing the traces of underwater cultural heritage. This allowed the scientific and technical team to document three new shipwrecks dating from the Ancient to the Modern period, as well as several other areas of archaeological interest.
This autumn, the archaeologists will meet at UNESCO to unveil their preliminary findings. A full, detailed report will be presented at a later date. This is the first step in a lasting relationship of multilateral cooperation in the Mediterranean.
The archaeologists plan to process the photogrammetry of the revisited wrecks located on the Italian Continental Shelf, using the video taken by the robots. They recommend continuing the mapping of the Skerki Bank area on the Tunisian Continental Shelf. They also want to organize several activities, such as a scientific conference, follow-up missions and a reflection on the protection of these sites.