Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry July 2014   update Aug 2015

Preserving our Underwater Cultural Heritage - UNESCO - Archeomar

Elsewhere in these pages I have made reference to UNESCO and the World Heritage and the Intangible Heritage lists. Italy is well represented on both. I am pleased to note the existence (since 2001) of another UNESCO effort, namely that of trying to find, catalog and, if possible, preserve our Underwater Cultural Heritage. From UNESCO sources:

Underwater cultural heritage encompasses all traces of human existence that lie or were lying under water and have a cultural or historical character. This includes three million shipwrecks such as the Titanic and ancient 4,000 shipwrecks of the Kublai Khan sunken fleet. There are also sunken ruins and cities, such as the remains of the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt – one of the Seven Wonders of the World, as well as thousands of prehistoric sites. Entire cities have been swallowed by the waves, and thousands of ships have perished at sea. While these ships, buildings and historical items are not frequently visible on the surface, their remains have survived at the bottom of lakes, seas and oceans, safely preserved by the water environment. They provide testimony to the various periods and aspects of our history, for example, the cruelty of the slave trade, the ferocity of wars, the impact of natural disasters, traces of sacred ceremonies and beliefs or the peaceful exchange and intercultural dialogue between faraway regions.

In reference to Italy, they say,

"Italy, with over 700 km of coastline and a central position within the Mediterranean basin, conserves within its waters a vast underwater archaeological heritage, testimony of the fundamental role it has played at the crossroads of travel over the course of centuries which has connected the East and the West and the three continents that boarder the sea. Over the past twenty years, the improvement in diving equipment and techniques has led to an increase in the numbers of recreational divers, as well as the increased depths which can now be reached, therefore making sites more accessible and increasing the risk to this heritage. In order to tackle this problem, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage... in 2004 started the Archeomar Project. The project aims to create a register of all the underwater archaeological sites along the coastlines of the regions of Italy, which today has now covered Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Lazio and Tuscany."

Years of work and hundreds of days of on-site survey over more than 360 km2 of seabed have now produced 628 files containing the data collected from archives, libraries and museums and have located with precision and documented with pictures and videos 282 underwater archaeological sites.

It should be noted that there are already a fair number of underwater sites inscribed in the general UNESCO cultural heritage list, but this is the first massive world-wide coordinated assault on the task. Locally, of course, regional and national authorities have not been idle. Almost all large museums in southern Italy have sections dedicated to the treasures beneath the sea. Baia, for example, at the western end of the gulf of Naples has its own underwater archaeology park; you can snorkel or scuba down and explore or go over to the museum enclosed in the Baia castle and visit the considerable exhibit dredged up from the depths and reconstructed. Even construction of the Naples Metro station at Piazza Municipio has been helpful; they uncovered the Roman port and found some ancient ships. There are also spectacular finds such as the statues now known as the Riace bronzes, found in the waters off of Calabria. "Underwater archaeology sites" include not just sunken cities or parts thereof, but shipwrecks, ancient and modern--not just the Roman ships at Piazza Municipio, but the large number of sunken vessels from WWI. UNESCO set a "must be 100 years old" limit on that task. It is formidable, indeed. (If you want to search for sunken ships from WWII, you'll have to wait a while.) So imagine all the waters of all the seas, rivers and lakes in the world disappearing just for a few seconds, (I don't want to kill any fish!) and imagine that you could take a fast glance at what's down there...Atlantis? Probably not, but it's still exciting.

updated August 2015: This just in! A megalith in the Sicilian Channel.

all photos by Archeomar

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