BMCR 2005.09.64

Archaeologia Maritima Mediterranea. An International Journal on Underwater Archaeology. Volume 1 (2004)

, Archaeologia Maritima Mediterranea. An International Journal on Underwater Archaeology. Volume 1 (2004). Pisa and Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2005. 215. Subscription: Italy: €45.00 (individuals); €65.00 (institutions with online edition); Abroad: €65.00 (individuals); €95.00 (institutions with online edition).

Launching a new, specialized journal is a courageous act, but in this case well justified by the journal’s high quality and distinguished editorial board. Archaeologia Maritima Mediterranea has good design, with true footnotes on each page, and striking clarity of its numerous underwater (and other) photographs on handsome cream-colored paper. This first issue has articles in Italian, English, and French, with short abstracts in English (of varying fluency). House rules for authors are provided on pp. 209-215.

In contrast to other publications such as the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and The Mariner’s Mirror, the journal is dedicated specifically to the Mediterranean, but not limited to ships and harbor structures. A number of articles furnish updates or correct past information on wrecks,1 while others present highly technical studies in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, conservation, and cultural heritage.

This first volume offers important evidence of finds, mostly Italian, illustrating ancient daily life, art, commerce, and historical realia. Some studies here, and a growing number of re-examinations of past excavated wrecks, demonstrate that many cargoes included some amount of very old merchandise—alarming as that is for economic historians and archaeologists who seek firmly dated contexts. Even the seamen themselves are yielding up secrets and confirmation of the validity of modern ethnographic comparisons, as seen in the tragic finds in the Pisa harbor.

Piero Dell’Amico, “Relazione e parziali considerazioni sulle strutture e sui reperti lignei del relitto di Giglio Porto” (13-39) presents new data on the wooden construction of the Roman wreck in [Isola del] Giglio Porto. The ship, headed due north, sank just off the Roman harbor mole ca. A.D. 200-225; its depth of 35-37 meters probably precluded ancient salvage attempts (so the absence of a bilge pump is perplexing — in contrast to similar freighters, La Madrague de Giens and Anse des Laurons 2, where metal pumps were salvaged by divers. Extensive damage by shipworm ( Teredo navalis) confirms ongoing analyses that marine borers were the bane of all Mediterranean vessels.2 Studies of the wood species used for ship, artifacts, and dunnage (packing material) indicate that it was built in the Italian archipelago and add to our corpora of actual and literary ancient species. The ship carried mostly African amphorae (of fish-sauce and wine); terracotta tubes/pipes onboard may have been cargo or part of a kitchen or cabin but were not from a pump. The hull measures 13.5 to 15.3 x 4.5 to 5.1 m (for perspective, the tiny workhorse Kyrenia ship of ca. 300-280 B.C. was 12 x 5 m; the largest ships excavated, the 1st-century B.C. Madrague de Giens and Albenga wine-freighters, were 40 x 9 or 10 m).

Smiljan Gluscevic, “Hydroarchaeological excavations and the discovery of the third sewn Liburnian ship Seriliae, in the Roman harbor of Zaton near Zadar” (41-52), publishes the third example of a Roman — actually Liburnian — sewn ship from Zaton, the port of the Roman city Aenona (modern Nin, Croatia); it had been filled with sand and deliberately sunk behind the ancient breakwater. The author now links this traditional craft, assembled with ligatures (here plaited cords of flax or willow), to the ancient term serilia or serilla. (The other two Zaton boats had bipod masts, but this one was single. Gluscevic also furnishes a study of the harbor sediments, with a catalogue of the flora and fauna derived from food and other refuse thrown into the harbor during its short but affluent occupation in the 1st through 3rd centuries A.D. (including the earliest find of cultivated radishes, first cited in the Dioscorides Codex (ca. A.D. 60).

The unprecedented discovery in 1998 at the San Rossore railway station in Pisa of a harbor full of wrecks continues to produce fascinating results. Andrea Camilli, “Il Cantiere delle navi antiche di Pisa: note sull’ambiente e sulla periodizazzione del deposito” (53-75) provides a framework for dating and analysis of the material thus far excavated. The ancient coastline lay much closer to the city, and silting of the River Auser in a sequence of major floods covered ships and altered the harbor several times. Eight phases are evident, from the 6th- to 5th-century Etruscan port (wooden quay structures await excavation), through a 2nd-century flood with a badly broken up Hellenistic cargo ship, to a colonial phase demonstrating Roman takeover by the centuriation of Pisan land. Four wrecks attest to a late Augustan-era flood (Ships A, B, E, P) that was followed by construction of a mole to protect the harbor, and other flooding and construction occurred sporadically from the Hadrianic through early medieval periods (several more ships are known). The “Hellenistic Ship,” at a respectable 42 tons, sank ca. 200-175 B.C., carrying hundreds of amphorae; among its wreckage were the remains of three horses and a sailor. The tooth of a lioness has been interpreted as evidence for transport of circus animals from North Africa: might it represent instead a poorly tanned rug? An Augustan or Tiberian flood also claimed Ship C, a swift river galley, its cutwater and leather-sheathed oar-ports beautifully preserved (one bench has an incised inscription, _λχδ_, p. 69 fig. 11).

The small Augustan cargo Ship B (9 x 4 m) took down with it a sailor and his dog, as described by Francesco Mallegni, Stefano Bruni, Dario Piombino Mascali, Fulcio Bartoli, and Emiliano Carnieri, “Paleobiologia del Marinaio romano di Pisa San Rossore” (77-88). As their ship tilted and sank, man and dog stood side by side at the gunwale and were thrown over the side and struck from behind by timbers. His master was looking toward the little dog, trying with his right hand to free him from the heavy timbers, but hull and cargo pinned them down. At least another eight men and women have been identified by fragmentary bones in the Pisa harbor, but human remains are rarely this well preserved underwater. Only the Marsala Punic wreck, sunk during the Battle of the Aegates (241 B.C.) also had the (fragmentary) bones of a dog as well as a man. Forensic analysis of the Pisa sailor, like the fugitives of Herculaneum, offers almost too much personal information for this pathetic scenario. The sailor was relatively tall (170 cm or 5 ft 7 in), used to constant, heavy labor, and, like many later seamen, used his upper front teeth to work rope.3

Gianfranco Purpura, “Il relitto bizantino de Cefalù: ultimo atto?” (89-98) presents the evidence from disjointed finds (due to plundering), that a 6th-century Byzantine cargo wreck lies off the promontory of Cefalù, Sicily. An iron anchor more than 2 meters long, amphorae, lamps, and parts of a catapult attest to this ship, while a stone anchor and cargo of 17th-century Spanish pottery show the presence of wrecks or dumped cargo of the Archaic through modern periods.

Antonio Giglio, Alessandro Ferradini, and Kristian Schneider describe “Situazione dei lavori di restauro in corso d’opera sui frammenti lignei appartenenti alla chiglia ed al fasciame della nave Greco-arcaica di Gela” (99-108. Two merchantmen found off the port of Gela are of distinctive sewn construction previously associated with the Italian archipelago and now thought by some to also represent Greek shipbuilding.4 The “Archaic” ship sank ca. 500-480 B.C., with a cargo of foodstuffs in amphorae, pottery, and at least seven tons of ballast. The second ship, similarly built, carried the same kinds of food and baskets, but sank ca. 425 BC. The wooden remains of the Archaic ship’s remarkable hull had to be rescued after 15 years of storage, and some features have been irreparably damaged. See also the brief report by Patrice Pomey and Antionette Hesnard on the Archaic ships of the port of Marseille (pp. 187-191): some of these show sewn construction, sometimes attributed to Phocaean traditions.5

Submerged terrestrial sites, such as the villas of Baiae and the Roman fish farms of Torre Astura, are being conserved and prepared for use as underwater archaeological parks. Two articles describe the challenges and conservation procedures for Roman structures, concrete, and mosaic pavements: Roberto Petriaggi and Riccardo Mancinelli, “An experimental conservation treatment on the mosaic floor and perimeter walls of room n.1 of the so-called ‘Villa con ingresso a protiro’ in the underwater archaeological park of Baia (Naples)” (109-126) and Sandra Ricci, “La colonizazzione biologica di strutture archeologiche sommerse: I casi di Torre Astura e Baia” (127-135). Conservators will find these studies essential, and historians and archaeologists will appreciate the maps, plans, and photos of ancient structures.

Barbara Davidde, “Methods and strategies for the conservation and museum display in situ of underwater cultural heritage” (137-150) discusses theoretical approaches for and the problems posed by a wide variety of sites that can be saved from plundering only by turning them into archaeological parks. Among the sites temporarily protected by burial with special structures and coverings are the Spargi shipwreck (a Campanian wine freighter sunk by pirates ca. 120-100 B.C.) and the Archaic Phoenician sewn ships off Mazarrn, Spain. A Roman wreck at Grum de Sal (near Ibiza) was reburied and studied by means of a mold taken without disturbing the timbers.

Roberto Bonaiuti, “Progetto di conservazione in situ del relitto romano di Procchio” (151-156) discusses a well-preserved ship discovered in 1967. It sank ca. A.D. 160-200 in Procchio Bay (Elba), its bows turned to seaward as ships still do when anchoring there. It was carrying loaves of industrial sulfur, African amphorae filled with figs, and a wide assortment of other goods or belongings (like a box of 10 kg of huntite, a magnesium pigment). The hull was left in place and is seriously endangered by currents and marine organisms; it is to be buried in an arrangement that will permit future retrieval and study.

Wilma Basilissi, Alessandro Ferradini, Antonio Giglio, and Riccardo Mancinelli, “Il restauro di elmi di ferro provenienti da uno scavo subacqueo presso Torre Santa Sabina (Brindisi)” (157-169) present conservation studies of helmets probably associated with a very fragmentary Late Republican merchant wreck dispersed in the surf. Four helmets were still stacked together, either as cargo or in the ship’s armory; the other three have been conserved in a student training project, and apparently have not yet been otherwise published.

The journal includes reviews of specialized works (173-183): C. Beltrame, Vita di bordo in età romana (P. Regoli), S. Medas, La marineria cartaginese, le navi, gli uomini, la navigazione (P. Dell’Amico), and P. Dell’Amico, Costruzione navale antica. Poposta per una sistematizzazione (R. Petriaggi). Editorial staff give news updates and synopses of conferences (187-206) on port structures, underwater archaeological heritage zones, conservation of waterlogged artifacts (two entries), and the excavations of the ancient port of Naples.

If subsequent volumes appear in timely fashion, this journal will be essential reading for students of Mediterranean history, economic history, conservation, etc. Its mixture of technical, archaeological, and historical subjects means that few will read it cover to cover but many will be exposed to new stimuli.


1. For basic background on the specific wrecks and shipbuilding discussed in detail in these articles, see: S. McGrail, Boats of the World: From Stone Age to Medieval Times (Oxford 2004); A.J. Parker, Ancient Shipwrecks of the Mediterranean and the Roman Provinces (Oxford: B.A.R. Int. Ser. 580, 1992, reprinted 1996); L. Casson, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World (Baltimore, 1971, revised 1995).

2. An update on the Kyrenia wreck, presented in a special session of the AIA Annual Meetings (Boston, January 8, 2005) by Susan Katzev, Richard Steffy, and others, emphasized its shipworm damage. Shipworm destroyed the modern trireme Olympias in spite of its use of modern marine coatings, and I have suggested (with A.G. Steinmayer, Jr., “Effects of Shipworm on the Performance of Ancient Mediterranean Warships,” IJNA 25.2 (1996) 104-121) that it affected the outcome of naval battles such as Salamis and Drepana and the “mutiny” of sailors in the Athenian Expedition to Syracuse.

3. Forensic studies of the skeletons excavated in the seashore warehouse at Herculaneum have cited tooth wear from work, and rowing as a cause of stress lesions on bones: see L. Capasso, I Fuggiaschi di Ercolano. Paleobiologia delle vittime dell’eruzione vesuviana del 79 d.C. (Rome 2001) 1040-1042, 1028-1031. See for example pp. 276-285 for “the old sailor” (Ercolano 29), a man of 45-50 with worn front teeth.

4. While the standard Classical technique of using mortise and tenon joinery was already present in Late Bronze Age vessels found in the eastern Mediterranean, until recently no unequivocally Greek/Classical ships demonstrate sewn construction. The picture is changing rapidly with the excavation of a late 6th-century wine merchantman near Halicarnassus: E. Greene, “Endless Summer: The 2002 Excavations Season at Pabuc, Burnu, Turkey,” INA Quarterly 30.1 (2003) 3-11. Still, the “nationality” of most of the sewn ships is difficult to establish due to the common practice of cabotage.

5. For more on sewn boats and the Marseille port excavations, see P. Pomey and E. Rieth, eds., Construction navale maritime et fluviale ( Archaeonautica 14) (Paris 1999); L. Long, P. Pomey, and J.-C. Sourisseau, eds., Les Étrusques en mer. Épaves d’Antibes à Marseille (Aix-en-Provence 2002); and P. Pomey, “Reconstruction of Marseilles 6th century BC Greek Ships,” and “Les épaves grecques du VIe siècle av. J.-C. de la place Jules-Verne à Marseille,” in Boats, Ships and Shipyards. Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology, Venice 2000, ed. C. Beltrame (Oxford 2003), pp. 57-65, 147-54.