This article in the July 2009 issue of Archaeology magazine summarized the important research and diving expeditions being conducted by RPM Nautical Foundation in the waters along the Albania’s coastline. Most of the finds consist of Corinthian goods from Greek transport ships which sank in route to their destinations on the Adriatic coast.
And Their Implications for Maritime History in the Eastern Mediterranean
Abstract: This paper summarises findings from three recently investigated Renaissance wrecks in deepwater discovered in the Straits of Rhodes and interprets them in the context of that fast-changing world. Taken together, these vessels of different type provide insight into the maritime infrastructure of European mercantile trade and political relations of the time, as well as the armament used during this contentious era.
Good friend, a storm is in fact a wind and thus it blows. But it is very strong, sometimes abnormally so. Rain storms are also known to have very strong gales. As the waves strike, the sea rises without limit. Those seeing this are amazed. Their vessels shake awesomely. Listen now while I tell you what they can do. They are driven where they would not go and God knows what things will happen there. They may sink at sea or be driven onto rocks. Lord deliver them from such a fate! Piri Reis, Kitab-ı Bahriye, v. 1, p. 71
In 2005 and 2006, with the collaboration of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Department of Underwater Archaeology, RPM Nautical Foundation conducted a deepwater survey for shipwrecks in the Straits of Rhodes (Fig. 1). That survey located 14 wreck sites, 3 of which date to the Renaissance period, roughly 1450–1600 (Royal 2006, 2008a). Given the weapons found at each site, all three vessels were likely prepared for combat. In another study, we address the coastal geography of the region and the visible assemblage of each site (Royal and McManamon 2010). Here we propose to expand our analysis and examine each of the three vessels against the background of maritime history. In terms of strategy at sea, these finds are important because, by the fifteenth century, Europeans had begun to appreciate the effectiveness of guns on vessels, technically known as ordnance. Once placed on ships, early wrought-iron guns were primarily employed as anti-personnel weapons. Advances in manufacturing gradually led to increased reliability and range for the guns. As shipwrights mastered the technology of gun ports and the laws of stability, they built vessels capable of carrying enough guns to capture or sink enemy vessels (Guilmartin 1994; Parker 1996; Rodger 1996; DeVries 1998; Glete 2000, pp. 17–39). The dramatic foundering of Vasa approximately 1,500 m into its maiden voyage in August of 1628 illustrates the complicated relationship between form stability (shaping and reinforcing the hull) and weight stability (positioning the guns and ballasting the hull) (Hocker 2006). By summarising the visible components of each vessel’s assemblage, describing the interaction between vessel type and armament, and situating the three wrecks in their maritime historical context, we better understand patrolling by oared warships, tramping by small coasters, and trading by merchantmen from north western Europe. The rapid growth of corsairs early in the sixteenth century made Rhodes the ‘‘epicenter’’ of a naval struggle pitting Christian against Ottoman forces (Tenenti 1960, p. 263). The growing presence of English vessels in the eastern Mediterranean late in the same century added a new motive for conflict, as northern Europe undermined the domination of trade by Italian maritime cities.
Fieldwork along the eastern Adriatic coast in 2009 marked the initial campaign conducted and coordinated under the research initiative of the Illyrian Coastal Exploration Program (ICEP). The goals of the program, introduced in this publication (Royal 2009), are to bring together numerous research institutes in an effort to investigate the eastern Adriatic coast. At the core of this program is a survey of the littoral region, out to the c. 100-m contour, spearheaded by RPM Nautical Foundation (RPMNF). The goal of the survey is to document all submerged cultural finds in an effort to assist the countries involved with the protection and scholarly research of these finds. This process is underway in Albania and Montenegro, and efforts are underway to organize fieldwork in Croatia for 2011. Among the entities involved in the program are the Albanian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Albanian Institute of Archaeology (AIA), Butrint National Trust (BNT), Montenegro Ministry of Culture, Regional Center for Underwater De-Mining (RCUD), Montenegro Center for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (CPCH), Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Trinity University-San Antonio, U.S. Embassy-Montenegro. Efforts of many individuals make the program possible, among them are Dr. Adrian Anastasi (AIA), Co-Director in Albania, Auron Tare (BNT), Veselin Mijajlovic (RCUD), and Dr. Vilma Kovacevic (CPCH).
Survey operations with a hull-mounted multibeam sonar were undertaken during May and June by RPMNF’s R/V Hercules. Detailed bathymetric data was collected first in Albania then continued in Montenegro (Figure 1). Overlapping survey lanes along the contours of the seafloor ensured 200% coverage of the seafloor and the ability to detect anomalies. Anomalies were verified primarily with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) operated from the R/V Hercules, except for a few in shallow areas of c. 5-35 m of depth where divers were utilized in Albania. Once the research vessel was positioned over an anomaly location, the ROV was deployed. A forward-scanning sonar affixed to the ROV facilitated the location of each anomaly and aided in the examination of the area surrounding each anomaly for scattered objects. Each site or submerged find was recorded with the ROV’s multiple video cameras. When deemed necessary, and conservation facilitates were available, objects were raised to assist in determining the date, provenience, and nature of the site or find. When geologic formations were encountered, they were scanned for cultural material that often is trapped when drag nets or currents push them onto rocks.
In addition to the multibeam survey, diver investigation was conducted in selected near-shore areas of Albania in order to gain an understanding of the presence of shallow-water material cultural. The dive team was expanded during the 2009 field season with the participation of volunteers from numerous organizations. Diver investigation included sections of coast all along the survey area. No beacons were attached to divers during operations; however, the locations of the dive boat, buoys placed at the furthest extents of the survey, and buoys at finds were recorded. Divers were armed with amphora identification slates, still cameras, scales, and drawing slates for recording finds.
In Albania, the 2009 multibeam survey addressed gaps and unfinished areas within the section surveyed during the 2008 season, and subsequently continued northwards (Figure 2). From the southernmost point at the Greek border, the survey has progressed northward to Porto Palermo in three seasons, a distance along the coast of c. 50 km. 1 Once the operation progressed north of Corfu (Greece), it was possible to extend the survey area further offshore out to the c. 80-100 m contour. The survey plan formulated for Montenegro for this inaugural season was based on the areas of interest of RCUD and CPCH representatives, particularly the bays of Kotor and Risan (Figure 3). Founded in the 5th century BCE, the city of Risan includes remains from the Illyrian and Roman eras as well as the medieval period. Additionally, the survey of the outer coastline began with the area directly opposite the entrance into Tivat Bay (Boka Kotorska) and extended Cape Mačka. Combined the surveyed areas of Kotor and Risan Bays was approximately 28 km2; the bays have a general depth of c. 30 m with a maximum of 60 m in spring holes. R/V Hercules approached very close to shore in some sections and also passed in depths as shallow as 12 m. The coverage area on the outer coast was c. 32.5 km2 and ranged from 17–100 m.
Data from the multibeam operations was processed during, and directly after, the collection phase to produce three-dimensional models of the seafloor, which was then analyzed for anomalies.2 Anomalies were examined for association with either geologic formations or deposits consistent with shipwreck sites, the latter were plotted for verification. Once mapped out in navigation and spatial recording software, the R/V Hercules navigated into position over anomalies and the ROV equipped with a transponder was deployed.3 The software also allowed the real-time tracking of the R/V Hercules and ROV within a three-dimensional seafloor model, and to obtain precise locations for sites and random finds. During verification operations, the locating of each anomaly, as well as stray material near anomalies and sites, was facilitated by a forward-scanning sonar affixed to the ROV. Once cultural material was located and positions recorded, a visual investigation ensued through the use of still and video cameras. Scale was provided with a laser affixed to the ROV that provides two 10-cm spaced points.
Since 2005, RPM Nautical Foundation (RPMNF) and the Superintendent’s Office of Underwater Archaeology in Sicily (Ufficio di Soprintendenza del Mare) have conducted a survey of coastal waters off the NW Sicilian coast. Over these past years, several areas have undergone intensive multibeam survey with ROV verification of anomalies (Figure 1). Efforts around the island of Levanzo, one of the Egadi Islands NW off of Trapani, have continued from 2005. In 2009, a project ventured into the southern coast, in the bay of Selinunte, to ascertain the efficacy of work in this region. A small survey was also conducted around Capo San Vito in 2007 and verification took place in 2009.
With a large amount of multibeam coverage completed from 2005–08, no additional multibeam survey was conducted during the 2009 season. A result of completing a considerable coverage area is a large number of anomalies that require verification. Although the number of anomalies is re-adjusted as new criteria and reviews are made, the number of unverified anomalies remains substantial. Based on experience and an evolving knowledge of the area’s seafloor topography, two strategies have developed for ROV operations. The majority of the survey area’s western sector (Figure 2) features closely-spaced, low, and relatively small rock outcrops that observations have shown to ensnare drag nets. As such, this area is largely undisturbed by fishing nets except on its periphery where material is dumped when nets are snagged. The densely-packed anomalies and protection from drag nets often require area searches in the western sector. A rather clear and abrupt demarcation exists between the rocky western sector and the sandy seafloor of the central sector. As the central sector is largely devoid of rock outcrops, drag nets have flattened the sand cover and little biological or cultural material survives. All that is left is a barren, flat landscape; the only features are long drag marks that criss-cross the seafloor and an occasional flat rock outcrop protruding from the sand. Any cultural material deposited here in antiquity has been recovered by fishing nets and/or moved to rocky areas and dumped. The survey area’s eastern sector is a patchwork of rock outcrops and open sandy stretches; hence, dragging has impacted to some degree this area as well. Although the few anomalies explored in the central sector indicate little probability of surviving material, the western and eastern sectors hold potential. The Levanzo I wreck, discussed below, is located in the eastern sector.
During the anomaly verification and area searches, random ceramic finds were located in the western and eastern sectors. A Roman-era commonware bowl and the upper portion of a Dressel 14 amphora were discovered in the eastern sector. Numerous random finds since 2006 have been found throughout this sector, the vast majority from the Roman era. Other finds noted but not recovered during operations in 2006-8 included the upper portions of Greco-Italic amphoras. Most of these amphoras were located on the edges of survey area’s central sector lying near rock outcrops (Figure 2); in a few instances the remains of snagged fishing nets were nearby. During the 2009 field season an intact Greco-Italic amphora was located here as well, and the decision was made to collect examples for analysis. Each of the amphora’s collected at the edge of the western sector were of the same type,—GrecoItalic—and possessed comparable dimensions and an asymmetry of their handles (Figure 3). This may indicate that these amphoras were produced at or near the same workshop, and at certainly a common time period. Once the locations of these amphoras from all seasons were plotted, there was a noticeable concentration in the NW section of the survey area where the rocky western section begins. Interestingly this is just slightly north of the Catherine D ram find location. The most likely scenario for these amphora finds is that they were dragged from somewhere in the flat central sector and deposited when the fishing nets snagged on rocks. Given the great similarity of the damaged amphoras, they likely originated from a single wreck site that settled in the central sector during the 4th-century BCE. Unfortunately, the site has been razed by nets and there may be nothing left of the site. Unlike near shore environments, the shallow sediments of deeper off-shore waters do not afford wreck sites the same protection; this is shown empirically in the Levanzo I wreck site investigation discussed below.
One of the anomalies in the eastern section of the survey area was a relatively modern wreck site (Sulfur Wreck, SI09-AA). This site lies in c. 50 m of water and it was therefore possible to deploy divers as well as the ROV on the site. The primary visible remains of this wreck is a cargo of raw sulfur ore that forms a low, flat deposit. All of the sulfur cargo was fist- to head-sized chunks; many were rough hewn but others appear to have regular edges associated with their being quarried. Generally the deposit was 1–2 layers thick. One sample chunk was raised and a sample was taken for analysis by the Superintendant’s Office. Some wood, possibly ceiling planks, was visible just beneath the shallow covering of sulfur ore as were several unidentified iron objects. The condition of the wood and the degree of encrustation, as well as form of the iron objects indicate a relatively modern date for the site. Based on the flat and relatively shallow nature of the surviving wreck site, it has likely been scrapped by fishing nets.