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.