Ancient Mediterranean Shipwrecks

Co-presented with The Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens and the Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney

Professor Sebastiano Tusa
30 July, 2012


The Mediterranean is one of the smallest seas in the world, but it is one of the most important due to the role that the different civilizations upon its shores played through the ages. The history of Mediterranean civilization has been deeply studied and analyzed by an incredible number of scholars all around the world. As it was argued by historian Fernand Braudel, the Mediterranean wasn’t one sea but many seas. All those Mediterraneans created one of the richest cultural mosaics in the world: one that can be appreciated from many points of view, including shipbuilding, and navigation and trade systems

Among the many sources that can help us to know this heritage, inherited through hundreds of generations by direct oral and written tradition, the evidence from ancient shipwrecks contribute much to our understanding.

A number of ancient ‘shipwrecks’ have been found in the Mediterranean during the last century and recently also in deep waters with the use of side-scanning sonar, and a few at great depths have been investigated with ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicles). Among the most ancient wrecks are those from Cape Gelidonya, Uluburun and Dokos, all which give the possibility to better understand 2nd millennium trade systems.

At Puerto de Mazarron two ancient Phoenician shipwrecks have been found. For wrecks of the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and late Roman-Byzantine periods we can study (amongst others) Ma’agan Mikhael (Israel), Porticello (Italy, with interesting Greek bronzes), Kyrenia (Cyprus, rebuilt as a sailing replica), Capistello (Sicily), the Punic warship of Marsala, Grand Conglue (France), Spargi (Sardinia), Albenga (Italy), Antikythera (Greece), Madrague de Giens (France), San Rosore (Italy), Yassi Ada (Turkey)

Most wrecks of such small open ships have been found intact, often with the contents (copper, amphorae containing wine or grain) in its original position. Some of them have their wooden parts still in situ and are in a good state of preservation. Their study and evaluation offer important information. On the basis of the cargoes we can rebuild the route of the original ship, which in turn provides new data to reconstruct the ancient trade systems. The study of the wooden remains helps us to understand the origin of the ship and to reconstruct the development of shipbuilding traditions.

Professor Sebastiano Tusa

Professor Sebastiano Tusa is Professor of Prehistory at the Corso di Laurea in Beni Culturali - Università Suor Orsola Benincasa, Naples. He has over forty years’ experience in the survey and excavation of archaeological sites in Italy, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Since 2004 and 2011 respectively he also holds the position of Soprintendenza del Mare of Regione Siciliana as well that of Superintendent of Cultural Heritage for the Province of Trapani. Professor Tusa has published numerous books and articles on the pre-history of Sicily and Mediterranean maritime archaeology.

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Professor Tusa's visit to Sydney is supported by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Sydney.