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 objective of the 2020 season was to continue the archaeological excavation of the test trench started in 2018 using techniques refined over the past 2 seasons. Once again, 3D photogrammetric surveys meant the limited bottom time did not compromise the accuracy of the documentation process. Recording the trench each day helped monitor changes and assisted in the formulation of effective excavation strategies each day. The site grid was reinstalled to allow for systematic excavation. A dredge powered by a hydraulic- submersible pump helped to clear the site of excess sediments, especially removing silt that was dislodged with the use of hand-fanning techniques and trowels. Small objects which came loose during excavation were put in a mesh bag and large objects were recovered using a lifting basket. Given the successful use of the ROV in the 2019 season, the device was deployed at the end of each day to film the trench while providing additional efficiency and safety with a line of communication to the surface.
The number artefacts recovered in 2020 exceeded objectives. 33 complete or partial amphorae of mixed typologies were raised, two of which have rare graffiti etchings. 3 jugs and 3 small cooking pots were also discovered between the larger objects in the cargo. Important organic artefacts were collected, including loose pieces of wood that may be hull fragments, as well as molluscs. Sieving is underway to determine if there are more molluscs inside the ceramic containers. These sieved layers may provide clues about past environmental conditions with further study. Scientific testing will be conducted on both the ceramic and organic materials to determine the date and origin. On the final dive a post-excavation 3D survey was completed, and the trench was covered in two layers of geotextile held in place by sandbags.
The public outreach campaign needed to be adapted due to COVID 19. The online talk presented by Project Director Prof. Timmy Gambin was well attended, the official Phoenician Shipwreck website has received increased traffic, and the interactive model of the site is available to explore in the Underwater Malta Virtual Museum. The aims for the 2021 season are to continue the excavation in the trench which are expected to contain the lower layers of cargo and the hull and continue refining methodologies for deep water archaeology.