A diver rediscovers the opulent Lion City in China

Ten incredible underwater discoveries that have captured our imagination

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Out of all the amazing archaeological discoveries made each and every day around the world, my favourites have got to be those that emerge from the depths of the ocean. I think there is something about the underwater world that captures our imagination – perhaps it is the curiosity and intrigue about what else may lie beneath the surface, or the idea that entire cities may be hidden on the ocean floor, out of sight and out of reach. Fortunately, underwater discoveries are not always out of reach and every year more incredible findings are made thanks to advancing technology in the field of marine archaeology. Here we present ten remarkable marine discoveries that have captured our imagination.    

1. Artifacts retrieved from site of first ever ancient naval battle

Artifacts retrieved from site of first ever ancient naval battle

In November, 2013, archaeologists announced the recovery of a treasure trove of artifacts off the coast of Sicily from the site of the first ancient naval battle ever discovered, including battering rams, helmets, armour and weapons dating back 2,000 years. They are the remnants of the Battle of the Egadi Islands - the last clash from the first Punic War which took place in 241 BC – in which the Romans fought the Carthaginians in a battle that culminated from more than 20 years of warring as the Romans struggled to gain a foothold in the Mediterranean Sea.  While the Carthaginians were much more powerful on the water, the Romans lay in wait trapping the Carthaginians and blocking off their sea route in a sudden attack. Up to 50 Carthaginian ships were sunk, killing up to 10,000 men.  The Roman victory set them on the road for Europe-wide domination. The priceless horde of artefacts had lain undisturbed on the seabed at a depth of 100 metres for more than two millennia.

2. 2,000-year-old intact Roman medicinal pill found in submerged shipping vessel

Ancient Medical Pill

In June, 2013, a team of Italian scientists conducted a chemical analysis on some ancient Roman medicinal pills discovered in the Relitto del Pozzino, a 2000-year-old submerged shipping vessel which sank off the coast of Tuscany, revealing what exactly the ancient Romans used as medicine. The Roman shipwreck lay near the remains of the Etruscan city of Populonia, which at the time the ship foundered was a key port along sea trade routes between the west and east across the Mediterranean Sea. The Relitto del Pozzino was excavated by the Archaeological Superintendency of Tuscany throughout the 1980s and 90s, revealing a variety of fascinating cargo including lamps originating in Asia minor, Syrian-Palestinian glass bowls, bronze jugs, ceramic vessels for carrying wine and, of particular interest, the remains of a medicine chest containing a surgery hook, a mortar, 136 wooden drug vials and several cylindrical tin vessels, one of which contained five circular medicinal tablets. The tin vessels had remained completely sealed, which kept the pills dry, providing an amazing opportunity to find out exactly what substances were contained within them. The results revealed that the pills contain a number of zinc compounds, as well as iron oxide, starch, beeswax, pine resin and other plant-derived materials.  Based on their shape and composition, scientists have suggested that the tablets were used as a type of eye medicine.

3. Incredible discovery of boat wreck in Croatia dated to 3,200 years

Boat wreck in Croatia

In March, this year, marine archaeologist and researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, Giulia Boetto, announced the incredible discovery of a boat wreck in Zambratija Cove, Croatia, which was just dated to 1,200 BC.  The unique and rare finding is a Bronze Age sewn boat, a type of wooden boat which is literally sewn together using ropes, roots, or willow branches.  The boat measures 7 metres in length and 2.5 metres in width and is a sewn boat, which was a technique of shipbuilding practiced in the Adriatic until the Roman era. The remains of the boat found in Zambratija Cove are incredibly well-preserved for its age, with stitching still visible in some areas and the frame largely undamaged.  The different types of wood used to construct it have been identified as elm, alder, and fir, and tree ring dating is currently underway, which will provide the date the tree was cut to the nearest year.  Ms Boetto said that they hope to finalise a 3D model of the boat and, eventually, a complete reconstruction.

4. Elongated skulls found in Maya underwater cave

Elongated skulls found in Maya underwater cave

In January, 2014, a flooded sinkhole in southern Mexico that terrifies local villagers was explored by underwater archaeologists, who found the submerged cavern littered with elongated skulls and human bones.   The underwater cavern, known as Sac Uayum, is a cenote located in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A cenote is a natural pit resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. They were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. Local legend says that the mysterious cavern is guarded by a feathered, horse-headed serpent. Older residents of the nearby village of Telchaquillo tell stories of people seeing the serpent perching in a tree, leaping up, spinning around three times, and diving into the water. From the first day of diving archaeologists discovered that there may be a very real reason why the villagers fear the place. It appears something terrible took place there and perhaps knowledge of this was passed down over the centuries leading to the development of myths and legends. The team identified more than a dozen human remains. The bones bear no marks that would indicate cause of death, so the people probably weren't sacrificed. According to the researchers, the elongated skulls were intentionally flattened during infancy, a practice that archaeologists are still seeking answers for.


Wasnt this a practice performed by ancient Peruvian people, applying pressure to the cranium of an infant, possibly one of a high status? I knew the Mayans utilized Cenotes in their religious rites involving human sacrifice, but wasn't aware of them elongating their people’s skulls! 

I wonder if these victims were captives from a battle.

Cenotes are fascinating to explore – and beautiful, with clear water!

The Hockeycowboy

It is important to remember that Ice Ages have caused long term variations in sea levels. Couple that with the fact that people have long like building villages to cities along coasts, especially where a fresh water stream flowed into an ocean or sea, and we can see that there is much we have yet to learn. From what I understand, at one time, well within the times that people built towns and cities, the ocean was as much as 200 meters or more, lower than it is now. Combine that with earthquakes and volcanic events, and our ignorance of the past becomes quite obvious. A major volcanic event can make soil infertile for more than one hundred years. In the Mediterranean basin alone, there are many questions to be asked. The origin of the various sea peoples in the Levant, possible Etrusca, (sp?), as well as the question of what happened to the writers of Linear A in Crete, are just a few. Was the Mediterranean ever a fresh water sea, as the Black Sea once was. Legitimate questions about the Americas and South East Eurasia can also be asked. I have read about 'sunken cities' off the Indian coast. Even the Red Sea poses questions. I can only hope that the current and coming generations of archaeologists and historians can proceed with open minds. I know of sites that I have not revealed because of the dangers of inadequate funding for scholars, the potential for looting, and the intrusion of religious and political ideologies into what ought to be the realm of scholarship. I recent found out that an ancient wall I discover on the Malay Peninsula has been found again. I can only hope that it, and any artifacts discovered there will not end up on the black market. This continual state of war we find ourselves in ought to warn scholars of the dangers of excavations in regions where the sites can easily be seriously compromised or damaged by those deranged by what they claim is religion. All of us need to carefully think things through before we rush to expose what others wish to destroy.

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