A 9,500-year-old submerged archaeological site discovered in the Sicilian Channel
In the Mesolithic period, approximately 9,000 years ago, the stretch of sea between Sicily and today’s island of Pantelleria, was studded with an archipelago of islands populated by ancient Mediterranean populations that were then forced to leave due to the gradual rising of the sea level. This history was reconstructed by the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics (OGS) after the discovery of a submerged archaeological site in the Sicilian Channel.
A 12-m long monolith, lying on the seabed of the Sicilian Channel, was found at a water depth of 40 m. It bears holes on some of its sides and a hole going through it from top to bottom. This discovery was made by a team of scuba divers thanks to the clues collected by geologists from the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics (OGS) of Trieste. The discovery is one of the oldest underwater sites known so far, dating back to the Mesolithic Period and allowed the reconstruction of the history of the ancient populations which lived on the islands of this area of the Mediterranean Sea when the sea level was approximately 40 m lower than it is today.
“The analysis of the data collected (high-resolution bathymetry, sampling, photo and video imaging) and the comparison between the trends of sea level changes enabled us to retrace the history of the desertion of this site that took place about 9500 years ago” explained Emanuele Lodolo, OGS researcher and study coordinator. “We have conducted studies in the Sicilian Channel since 2009 with the OGS-Explora ship, but it wasn’t until today that we were able to retrace the history of this archaeological site” added Lodolo.
The studies recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports – conducted by the OGS in collaboration with the University of Tel Aviv, the Arma dei Carabinieri and a team of professional scuba divers from the Global Underwater Explorers – showed that about 9500 years ago today’s North-Western area of the Sicilian Channel, that stretches from the coasts of Sicily to the island of Pantelleria, was studded with islands. This archipelago was then gradually swallowed up by the rising sea level following the melting of the ice cap that covered much of today’s Northern Europe about 18,000 years ago.
According to the researchers, the discovered monolith required cutting, mining, transport and installation skills and this reveals that the ancient settlers had advanced technical and engineering skills. This leads to the assumption that they had considerable knowledge and ability to exploit natural resources and to cross the sea. “Extensive archaeological evidence of early human settlements is still buried in the shallow water areas of our continental shelves that had emerged during the Last Glacial Maximum. Almost everything we know about prehistoric cultures ensues mainly from studies on dry-land settlements. In order to find the roots of civilization in the Mediterranean area, it is necessary to focus research in shallow water areas that are now submerged: this will be the challenge for modern archaeology,” added Lodolo.