The acceptance of a grant application based on the results of the 2007-2009 expeditions allowed for an ultra-high-resolution survey of the site to be conducted in 2014. Additionally, the possible recovery of sample objects was planned, which would contribute to a better understanding of the nature of the site.
Under the ambit of the GROPLAN Project a light observation-class ROV and a two-person manned submersible were deployed, both outfitted with a payload in keeping with the aims of the project. The 2014 survey had two aims: (a) the measurement of the entire site visible on the seabed, and (b) the extraction of known artefacts from the site. Both of these aims required the documentation of the site’s position in space, as well as that of the objects within in it. The gathering and processing of high-resolution 3D data led to the production of a dense cloud model, scaled and created on real baseline distances, with a high-resolution orthophoto as a result. This allowed for each visible artefact to be given a digital label with a unique object number.
The use of a manned submersible provided by COMEX permitted field archaeologists to experience the site and identify and select objects for recovery. The selection was based on whether the object provided a representative sample of the cargo, the ease of recovery and the least amount of disturbance of the sites.
Ultimately, the chosen objects could provide a better understanding of the shipwreck, its cargo and what could be revealed about archaic central Mediterranean trade. The following four objects were chosen: (1) a saddle quern base, (2) an ovoid amphora, (3) a flat-bottom amphora, and (4) an urn. The use of a manned submersible and an ROV provided site-specific information, and methodically recorded and recovered objects to the highest scientific standard.
The main aim of the 2021 season was to finalise the excavation of a 4x2m trench started in 2018. The objectives included exposing and recording the ship’s ballast in situ, as well as possible timber hull remains. Following the successful use of the technique during the 2018-2020 excavations, the excavation team used a hydraulic-powered submersible pump with a hydraulic machine housed on the bow deck of the boat. Any archaeological material was placed in mesh bags which were individual to each diver and the areas being worked in. The 3D photogrammetric recording of the site continued on a daily basis, creating an accurate record of the ongoing excavation. A rare and exciting discovery was that of a human tooth – the first human remains to be discovered on the site. This lower, right, first molar will be sent for further tests, including carbon dating and DNA analysis. The discovery of a mortis and tenon joint in the 2020 season provided the potential for further timber remains. This was confirmed in 2021 when the excavation exposed parts of six timber planks in situ, providing important information on hull construction and shipbuilding techniques in an archaic Mediterranean context.
The 2021 season marked the end of four years of excavation, the first ever conducted by divers at a depth beyond 100m, and the techniques used and methodologies developed will have a long-lasting impact on the discipline of deep-water archaeology. The finds recovered in the context of this project are making important insights into the trade networks of the archaic central Mediterranean, with hitherto unknown and rare ceramic types providing new information on Malta’s archaeological record. At the end of the 2021 season, the shipwreck site was covered with several layers of geotextile, sandbags and spoil material – ensuring that the timber remains are protected. The aim now is to continue the analysis of recovered material, bringing together an interdisciplinary team, for the eventual publication of the final reports. The site will be checked periodically by University of Malta and Heritage Malta divers, ensuring that the protective coverings are still in place and the site remains undisturbed for future generations.