Naval gazing unlocks ancient battle clues

November 2nd, 2014

Nottingham’s underwater archaeologist Dr Jon Henderson is helping to survey the first ancient naval battle site ever discovered.

At the Battle of the Egadi Islands on March 10 241BC, the Romans defeated the Carthaginians, setting Rome on course to seizing the Mediterranean and becoming an Empire.

The site, off Sicily, is being surveyed by the Soprintendenza del Mare, Sicily, and RPM Nautical Foundation with the help of underwater archaeology techniques developed in Nottingham.

Working at depths of up to 120 metres they are surveying an area of 5sq km, which is littered with the relics, including bronze battle rams.

Dr Henderson, from the Department of Archaeology, said: “It is quite surprising that despite all the literary references and the importance of naval battles and sea power in the ancient world we have never found a battle site before.”

Stories told by Sicilian divers of ancient lead anchors on the seabed off the Egadi Islands off Sicily’s northwest coast guided reasearchers to the battle site, where so far 11 battle rams have been brought up. Previously only three of these rams had ever been recovered in the world. The rams, cast on the bow of ships, will significantly increase understanding of ancient ships.

The research vessel Hercules uses an ongoing
multi-beam survey together with remotely operated vehicle (ROV) verification to producing an accurate map of the undersea geography.

Dr Henderson, pictured at Egadi, is using sector-scanner technology developed for the marine offshore industry to map the site in even more detail. He tested it in shallow water at Pavlopetri — the world’s oldest known underwater city. He said: “To fully understand the remains on the seabed and reconstruct the actual battle itself it is vital that we record the exact positions of the wreckage. I think this technology has the potential to transform the way underwater sites are surveyed.”

With funding from the Honor Frost Foundation artefacts brought to the surface inside amphora (juglike containers used to transport products) are being analysed at Nottingham.

Dr Henderson will be giving the second Honor Frost annual lecture Coming of Age: Underwater Archaeology in the 21st Century at the British Academy at 6pm, Thursday 12 December. To register attendance go to:

     Watch: Video shot at Egadi:

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