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date: 30 January 2023

archaeology, underwaterfree

archaeology, underwaterfree

  • A. J. Parker


  • Greek Material Culture: Bronze Age
  • Greek Material Culture
  • Roman Material Culture

The potential richness of the sea for salvage or accidental finding of sunken valuables was recognized from earliest times, but the possibility of defining meaningful groups of wrecked material or of interpreting submerged sites scarcely predates the widespread adoption of underwater breathing-apparatus in the 20th cent. Standard apparatus, supplied with compressed air from the surface, as used by sponge divers, enabled the discovery and partial excavation of rich 1st-cent. bce cargoes at Antikythera (1900–1) and Mahdia (1908–13), but the unwieldy equipment, reliance on untrained working divers, and exclusion of archaeological direction from involvement under water remained serious limitations on progress. Self-contained breathing-apparatus (the aqualung) came into widespread use after 1945, and resulted in the growth of diving for sport and pleasure; many ancient wrecks were discovered, especially in southern France, and the importance of this resource was recognized by F. Benoit. However, he did not direct operations under water, and his main underwater project, the excavation at the islet of Le Grand Congloué (1952–7), has subsequently been shown to have confused two superimposed Roman wrecks. In situ recording and interpretation were developed especially by P. Tailliez at the Roman wreck of Le Titan, southern France (1957), but the combination of these techniques with archaeological project-design and report-preparation did not mature until the establishment of a French national underwater archaeological service in 1967, which, beginning with A. Tchernia (1967–70), has developed both field techniques and also regular publications. In Italy, N. Lamboglia recognized the value of wreck sites in the 1940s, and established an underwater archaeological institute which carried out important excavations, e.g. at Albenga, though until recent years there remained a gap between the archaeological director (who dived only in an observation bell) and the excavation team of technicians. Meanwhile, British and American field-archaeology traditions resulted in the impact of H. Frost and P. Throckmorton on underwater sites, especially in the emphasis on methodical observation and recording before any excavation; this found expression in the successful Cape Gelidonya project (Lycia) led by G. F. Bass, which finally established underwater archaeology as a respectable, worthwhile branch of the discipline. Subsequently, work on shipwrecks has developed successfully not only under the aegis of foreign expeditions, notably those of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, but also through the growth of national and university institutes in Israel, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, and Croatia. Important developments have included the integration of excavation, post-excavation, conservation and reconstruction of wrecks (notably at Kyrenia, Cyprus), and the development of remote sensing and of remotely operated or piloted submersibles for survey below the effective free-diving limit (50–70 m.; 160–230 ft.). Meanwhile, the study of sea-level change and submerged settlement sites, notably by N. C. Flemming, has emphasized the significant information which can be recovered from underwater sites (e.g. the plan of the bronze age settlement on the isle of Elaphonisos, off SE Peloponnese), and the importance of underwater investigation for understanding ancient harbours, not least Caesarea (2) (by A. Raban). See riace warriors; shipwrecks, ancient.


  • J. du P. Taylor (ed.), Marine Archaeology: Developments during Sixty Years in the Mediterranean (1965).
  • K. Muckelroy (ed.), Archaeology under Water: An Atlas of the World's Submerged Sites (1980).
  • P. A. Gianfrotta and P. Pomey, Archeologia Subacquea (1981).
  • P. Throckmorton (ed.), History from the Sea: Shipwrecks and Archaeology (1987).
  • A. Raban, The Harbours of Caesarea Maritima: Results of the Caesarea Ancient Harbour Project, 1980–1985 1 (1989) and 2 (1994).
  • A. J. Parker, Ancient Shipwrecks of the Mediterranean and the Roman Provinces (1992).
  • A. Raban and K. G. Holum (eds.), Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective after Two Millennia (1996).
Journals and serial publications
  • International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration (London).
  • Archaeonautica (Paris).
  • Cahiers d'Archéologie Subaquatique (Fréjus).
  • Archeologia Subacquea (Bollettino d'Arte, Suppl.) (Rome).
  • Forma Maris Antiqui (Rivista di Studi Liguri) (Bordighera).