Operation: Battle of Egadi

April 4 2017

Expedition Video

Battle of Egadi has been the final act of the First Punic War - a World War of the ancient age - fought between the then dominant power of Carthage and the rising power of Rome, for the conquer of Sicily. The Roman fleet, with a strength of 200 ships, defeated the Carthaginian fleet which had a similar force, determining the fate of the area for the centuries to come. More than 100 ships sunk and more than 10.000 men died during the battle. Our mission is to salvage and locate the remains of the battle: bronze rams, helmets, shields and part of the ships using 3D photogrammetry and 3D model recostruction in order to create a first digital underwater map of the site.

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April 4 2017

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Preparation Stage

The Pillar and Capistello Bay
After Panarea III we moved back to Capistello and this is the result of a great summer work discovering the site where the Roman fleet was moored.

June 2017 - Back to Panarea III shipwreck


The Aeolian Archipelago is a group of seven volcanic islands north of Sicily. The islands are Unesco heritage listed for the unique natural environment, both in land and underwater, and in the Unesco Immaterial heritage list for the oral tradition. The Aeolian archipelago is named after Aeolus, the mythological Greek god of the wind. The wind, together with strong currents, unpredictable weather conditions, makes the islands one of the most dangerous places for navigation. However, 7000 years old archaeological evidence shows that the Archipelago was the center of short and long distance commercial networks. Mycenaean and Egyptian and pottery show intense prehistoric crossroads from all over the Mediterranean. Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Arab and Norman archaeological evidence show that the Islands were crucial stepping-stones for naval battles and as control points for the navigation through the Messina Strait. This millenary history of conquest and sea supremacy is reinforced by the discovery of dozens of shipwrecks especially around the islands of Filicudi, Lipari and Panarea. The island of Panarea especially, rounded by dangerous reefs, surface rocks and deep underwater cliffs, make the island a perfect spot for deep-water shipwrecks.

This is a “black and blue” story of Panarea III, a 2200 years old shipwreck discovered in the Central Mediterranean Sea… but not only. Black like lava, obsidian and volcanic ashes that more than 500.000 years ago, formed the Aeolian Islands an active volcanic archipelago North of Sicily, Italy, Blue like the Aeolian Sea, a legendary ocean dense of myths and legends; a shade of spectacular deepness and intensity that take us to dive at -130m through the Mediterranean.

Explore, dream discover are the first words that echo the great adventure we experienced this summer in the sea of Sicily. A dream has come true, a dream that began more than 18 years ago when I accidentally came across in my first amphora. This chance has indelibly marked my life by lighting a fire that even today, years later, pushes me to go in search of ancient civilizations. Since that day when I was called a boy, my journey of explorer has evolved and perfected. I studied, I listened and I learned that the discovery is only a small part of the research, an inevitable consequence of a long and hard work that often takes you away from the sea, in the midst of books and classrooms of universities.

Today I do not leave anything to chance, and this does not limit my emotion and my desire to discover but rather multiplies because only if you know you have the chance to really enjoy, and understand the deep meaning of an emotion. Now when I see a wreck of a Roman ship or Greek more than 2000 years ago, I can enjoy every single detail of that time capsule that contains within itself our history of human beings.

What happened this summer is the future of Underwater Archaeology and I say this without presumption, because what we have achieved is the result not only of training but is the result of years in which the men have invested their time and their resources to get to accomplish this feat. We have created a team that for the first time sees action at the same time researchers, government institutions, underwater explorers and innovative technologies. The team has made the study of two ships Greek / Roman and with the aid of Triton submersibles, scientists were able to dive with no time limit and study live wrecks. A unique experience that has allowed us to collect an amazing array of data and findings.

This is just the beginning, is currently being developed into a Memorandum of Understanding between the GUE and the Sicilian Government, to develop an ambitious research project and exploration for the study of deep wrecks in Water management in the Aeolian archipelago. The project GUE sets the stage for the beginning of a new era of Underwater Archaeology and as I said…this is just the beginning.

Panarea III is not only the material evidence of economic damage due to the lost of a very expensive commercial cargo. The shipwreck is a plunge revealing new and unexpected commercial networks that give light to the understanding of social, political and military dynamics in a crucial moment for the history of the Roman Empire and the Mediterranean Sea. But not only. Panarea III is a dive into the tragedy behind the wreckage, the lost of human lives. It is a voyage into the most intimated and sacred believes of a community. In sum, this is not an ordinary story of a master and its crew, and the unexpected event of a storm and its related shipwreck. This is a tech-dive into the Mediterranean and the history of the Roman Empire.

The seabed around Panarea has been extensively investigated in 2010 by the Soprintendenza del Mare (Regional Department for the Underwater Heritage) directed by Sebastiano Tusa, and Martin Gibbs chief archaeologist of Aurora Trust foundation. The preliminary geo-acoustic survey detected more than 20 sensitive targets between -50 and -150m and Panarea III is one of this. The shipwreck is positioned on a sandy platform at -130m nearby an isolated volcanic rock. The archaeological site, untouched for more than 4200 years, appear as an oval-shaped assemblage of hundreds of amphorae and other ceramic containers. In addition, the lead part of the wood and lead anchor has been identified in the top of the isolated volcanic rock. The remains of the wooden structure of the shipwreck haven’t been found so far, they are lying most likely under the amphorae layer.

Several archaeological materials compose the cargo. There are wine amphorae from Campania and Pompeii area; Punic amphorae from Cartage or from Sicily who’s content are still unknown, plates, cups and stone mills.

Within the other archaeological materials, a sacrificial altar is one of the most interesting finding of Panarea III shipwreck. The uncertainties and perils at sea, especially in this area of the Mediterranean Sea and the Messina Strait required the protection of the Gods. Therefore the altar was used to perform religious ceremonies to protect the voyage and practices that often required sacrifice of small animals such us birds. The spectacular discovery of a rare and expensive object like the sacrificial altar gives light to the most intimate religious aspect of the navigations. The altar, decorated by sea waves and a mysterious inscription in Greek letters on the basis, is currently under investigation by Soprintendenza del Mare and the University of Sydney.

The preliminary investigation allows hypothesizing that the ship was sailing from southern Italy towards Sicily (or vice versa) approximately during the late 3rd Century BC or the beginning of the 2nd Century BC. This is a crucial period for the history of the Mediterranean Sea and the Roman Empire. It is the time of the 2nd Punic war (218-201 BC) and the battles of the Romans versus the Punics for the sea supremacy. The ship could have belonged to an allied town of Campania (Neapolis, Capua, Velia or other Greek speaking town) suppling with food the Roma war fleet, maybe a supply vessel to the fleet of roman general Claudio Marcello that conquered Syracuse in 212 BC where Archimedes was killed. Still, the ship could also have been a merchant ship owned by a wealthy merchant, trading wine or oil from a Greek-speaking town of Naples area.

The reason of the ship sinking might be related the very dangerous reefs and surface rocks nearby the island of Panarea. In addition, the unpredictable weather conditions and the difficulty to find protected bays, made the easiest journey through these islands, a challenging navigation.

In conclusion, Panarea III shipwreck is one of the most important discoveries of this decade, not only as an experimental site for the improvement of deep-sea technologies and techniques for scientific archaeological investigation. It is also an important piece of information that gives lights to a crucial moment of the history of the Roman Empire, and the people who made it. No matter if they where sailors, masters or generals, friends or enemies, through sailing, praying, fighting, they all shared a common sea: the Mediterranean.

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May 2017 - After the great succes of our first trial in the Egadi islands we came back to the Aeolian islands for a three month expedition with the aim to realize a full 3d survey of Panarea II shipwreck and recover a Lutherion, a sort of sacrifical altar, we discovered the year before in Capistello bay at 115 mt of depth. Aeolian islands are connected with Operation: Battle of Egadi because in 260 b.C. in Lipari, the main island of the Aeolian archipelago, it was fought a big naval battle which was the first encounter between the fleets of Chartage and Roman Republic in the First Punic War. The hystorical context is the same and in Aeolian islands we hope to find some trace of that battle helping us to understand better how the naval conflict took place. If the shipwrecks we founded outside Panarea island couldn't be related to the Punic War scenario, all of them are from the IV Century b.C. the archaeological site located outside Lipari port ,called Capistello bay, seems to be a very intersting research area. Capistello bay offer a natural shelter against winds from North - North West, it is a huge shallow water area and it is the perfect site to control the near sicilian cost. We will spend more than one month exploring the depth of Capistello but before that we must end the full 3d of Panarea shipwreck and realize the 3d of the ancient Roman port of Lipari. The Roman port was founded in 2013, seven basements of column where located at 8 mt of depth near the main port of Lipari. It was clearly evident that columns were the remains of an ancient temple that probably was located in the ancient port. Unfortunately the location isn't so easy, boat commercial traffic is very important in the Aeolian islands that's why in that area we were able to find only a large amount of broken pottery and clay and nothing more.

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April 2017: Beginning of the diving operations, the goal is to locate and recover a bronze ram discovered three years before. We have only few informations about the archaeological site in fact we will be the first divers able to explore that area. The weather isn't so good and we have only one week to complete the mission. We set the HQ inside the ancient tuna farm of Favignana, an unique location where there is the museum of the Battle of Egadi. We work with the support of the sicilian Government, Soprintendenza del Mare, the Museum of Favignana and the Marine Park of the Egadi islands. The first dive goal is to locate the ram checking if the gps coordinates are correct, sea is rough and the surface management will be not easy. 2 teams of 4 divers will dive at 85 mt of depth for 45' of bottom time...it will be a long survey. We are very lucky, we found the ram quite easy and we have time to explore the area around the artifact. During the exploration we found a bronze roman helmet, quite intact and several amphorae. The next day we have to clean the ram, it is hlaf buried under the sand. One team of 4 divers has the goal to prepare the ram for the extraction another team has to continue the area exploration, on the surface in stand by there is another team ready to help team n.1 in case the cleaning will need more time. Cleaning operation results very hard, the sand is like mud and during the excavation visibility goes down very fast. Team n.2 win the lottery! 30 mt far from the ram they found another one, different from the other lying on the surface of a rocky bottom area. We are very excited but unfortunately we cannot continue the survey, the sea is too bad to assure divers safety. We have tons of data to analyze and according with Soprintendenza del mare we plan to come back to Egadi in October for a three week mission.

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Expedition Background

Operation: Battle of Egadi is part of a big underwater archaeological project located in Sicily with the aim to create the first digital underwater map of the cultural heritage. The project started more than 12 years ago and during this time we have explored and documeted several shipwrecks and archaeological sites all around the sicilian sea. In the last three years we focused our effort to develop innovative underwater surevy techniques like 3D photogrammetry and 3D modelling of the artifacts. Testbed location are Aeolian and Egadi islands. Currently we are working on three Greek shipwrecks from 80 to 135 mt depth around Panarea island and in the Batlle of Egadi site.

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Francesco, this is really exciting. Looking forward to following along with this expedition.

thank you so much