In the month of September 2014 a campaign of archaeological surveys was conducted in ultra-deep waters of Pantelleria, Lipari and Panarea. The campaign was coordinated with the Office of the Superintendent of the Sea by Sebastiano Tusa and Roberto La Rocca with the help of Emma Salvo. Aquatic operations were conducted by Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) under its initiative "Project Baseline" and led by GUE President Jarrod Jablonski with critical support by Francesco Spaggiari and Mario Arena. GUE operations relied upon the generous support of sponsors including Brownie’s Global Logistics (BGL) and CEO Robert Carmichael. Aquatic operations were possible thanks to collaboration with the Coast Guard of Pantelleria and Lipari who directly supported recovery operations on the wreck of Panarea III. Careful documentation of archaeology sites established by the Office of the Superintendent of the Sea were made by a team of GUE technical divers, working with the latest technology provided by BGL including a 50m support vessel, two 8m support boats, twin 300m submersibles, hyperbaric chamber, full mixed gas system, autonomous underwater vehicles, BlueView Sonar and wide ranging documentation equipment.
In Pantelleria operations GUE deep divers and subs conducted operations to survey the seabed at Cala Levante, Cala Tramontana and Cala Gadir to depths beyond 200 meters, identifying areas with distribution of various types of amphorae (mainly Greek-Italic and Punic). In Lipari and Panarea survey activity was focused on the archaeological site of Capistello and on the shipwrecks of Panarea II and III. At Capistello Bay documentation built upon previous work conducted around 60m on the famous Capistello shipwreck. Early archaeological studies conducted since 1969 brought great discoveries though the wreck has unfortunately also been looted, emphasizing the importance of baseline documentation conducted during the current project. GUE operations established the presence of cargo at depths of more than 150m as well as numerous ancient anchors (some with the lead stock present). The discovery of numerous, large anchors confirms the site as a important anchorage along ancient shipping routes intersecting the Aeolian Archipelago. Exploring the deep areas surrounding the wreck identified a well preserved portion of the wooden keel at about 120 meters alongside a base and fluted shaft of a terracotta Thymiaterion (ancient incense burner) which is apparently missing the upper basin. In the same area at a depth near 80 m the project located two artifacts tied to a deflated lift bag apparently used during a failed attempt to loot the wreck of precious artifacts.
The projects greatest success came while exploring the wreck of Panarea III which was originally identified in 2010 following side scan sonar surveys in collaboration with the Aurora Trust Foundation. During this project GUE divers carried out a 3D photogrammetry survey of the wreck site and cargo contents as well as extensive photo and video graphic documentation while working at depths beyond 110m. Deep divers working in tandem with submersibles carrying expert archaeologists created a unique opportunity to systematically analyze and document the wreck site. In particular it was noticed that most of the jars are Greek-Italic but with substantial cargo of Punic Amphorae positioned in one area near what is assumed the bow. Within this section several important artifacts were located including a Catillo millstone, cylindrical vases of the type “Sombrero de Copa" (some stacked one inside the other), a collection of plates (so-called fish dishes for their use with fish paste) and a range of small plates and bowls likely used by the crew. One amazing discovery included recovery of a whole Thymiaterion (sacrificial altar) separated into two parts with a molded base bearing a Greek inscription of three letters (ΕΤΗ). The rest of the object consists of a short, smooth cylindrical column topped by a large basin. The arrangement of the cargo encourages the hypothesis that the ship is lying on its port side. This is deduced from the position of the jars and by the presence of the objects on board (plates, grinds, thymiaterion, etc.), which were likely in the hold within the bow, and were overturned and thrown almost out the main wrecksite. Upon the request of the Superintendent of the Sea, GUE technical divers recovered amphorae (one each type found in the cargo), the Thymiaterion, a few pots and pans, a jug, an olla and two vessels of the type Sombrero de Copa. The Thymiaterion is considered particularly interesting because of the Greek letters and a relief decoration on the edge of the basin showing stylized waves.
This joint mission between the Office of the Superintendent of the Sea, GUE and BGL has been a great success because it added valuable documentation for the study and protection of ancient wreck sites and due to the recovery of valuable artifacts that further enrich the already extensive archaeological underwater collection of the Aeolian Archaeological Museum of Lipari L.Bernabò Brea. These activities further support highly effective visual and teaching documentary material that will be useful to produce multimedia products aimed at the strategic activities of the Superintendent of the Sea: the spread of culture and respect for the Marine Cultural Heritage and immense historical and cultural values of the Sicilian sea in the world. This aspect was emphasized by the Councillor for [AA BB CC and IS] Prof. Furnari during a September 15 visit of both the excavation site of Sottomonastero and the BGL/GUE operations ship, establishing the validity of cultural enrichment and survey activities conducted. Prof. Furnari has called for the creation of visual material to enhance learning in schools in the major cities and seaside villages of Sicily, but also outside the island, in order to spread the knowledge of marine cultural heritage of Sicily. It must be stressed that this activity, if performed under the contract by the Regional Administration would entail an investment of at least € 300,000 for the provision of ship, submersible and tech divers, as well as producing movies and photo shoots in high definition.
Given the very satisfactory results of this campaign, the Superintendent of the Sea Sebastiano Tusa and the President of the GUE Jarrod Jablonski decided to continue the fruitful collaboration in the coming year as part of an agreement concluded under the auspices of the Office for the AA BB CC and IS the Sicilian Region.