Archeologists Discover 3 Shipwrecks In Treacherous Mediterranean Reef
Rough Seas
Mike Hill via Getty Images

Archeologists have uncovered three previously unknown shipwrecks, including one dating as far back as the first century BC, in a stretch of the Mediterranean Sea known for wrecks, according to findings announced at a UNESCO press conference last week.

The discoveries were made by an international team of 20 researchers in August and September of last year. While discussing their findings for the first time, they announced that one ship dates to between the first century AD and mid-second century AD, and two other previously-unknown wrecks date to the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to the new discoveries, archeologists revisited Roman wreck sites to further document the ships and surrounding artifacts.

“When we found the new ships it was a [feeling] of relief because of all the effort we have all put in and that there are still things to learn from such a heavily looted area and that there is still something to protect,” Alison Faynot, a UNESCO archeologist, told the U.K.’s The National News.

In August, the archeologists boarded the Alfred Merlin research vessel, which is equipped with underwater imaging and mapping equipment. With this technology, they cataloged numerous shipwrecks that date between a time frame of roughly 2,000 years. Using remotely operated vehicles, they collected images and video of both the wrecks and the artifacts with them, according to CNN, with one of the ROVs reaching a depth of nearly 3,000 feet.

Researchers discovered the three previously unknown wrecks sitting on the floor of the Tunisian continental shelf using an ROV. The ships were discovered in the Keith Reef in the Skerki Bank — between Sicily, Italy, and Tunisia — which is known as a treacherous region.

According to a UNESCO press release, the ship that dates between the end of the first century BC and the middle of the second century AD was a merchant vessel that sits roughly 213 feet deep. It measures 50 feet long and may have carried wine, based on what appears to be amphoras with the ship, which are large jars used by Romans and Greeks.

Another one of the previously-unknown shipwrecks was a wooden ship that may have been a fishing vessel. The third, identified by UNESCO as a “large motorized metal wreck,” has davits that are facing out, meaning the lifeboats could have allowed passengers to escape the sinking ship, according to the organization. Both of these vessels date from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century, and researchers hope they will eventually be able to identify the ships using archives.

“Underwater heritage is very important,” Faynot said. “People see underwater cultural heritage as a treasure and something to collect, but it is really significant. All its little details give us so many clues about where we come from.”


The Roman shipwrecks that were revisited date between the first century BC and the first century AD, and were initially discovered between 1980 and 2000. Researchers further photographed and studied the wrecks, including the artifacts that surround the sites. Pots, lamps, amphoras, ceramics, and building materials were nearby the wrecks, and it’s likely the ships were once part of a trading system between different cultures, CNN notes.

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