Scientists from eight nations unite for unprecedented marine archaeological survey of the Mediterranean

A multinational group of scientists works on a mission to excavate one of the richest and most mysterious underwater archaeological sites in the world.

The expedition, organized by Unesco, brings together experts from Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia to explore the seabed of the Skerki Banks, a shallow open sea area in the central Mediterranean that was once among the busiest shipping routes in Europe.

The group left Trapani, Italy on August 24 and are expected to dock in Bizerte, Tunisia on September 3.

In an interview with the online newspaper Al MonitorAlison Faynot, who coordinates the mission on behalf of UNESCO, said that the representatives of the respective countries had been discussing this expedition for four years.

“Our mission now at sea is the practical embodiment of this project,” Faynot said. “Since 2018, we have led meetings and exchanges between experts in underwater archaeology, especially in the last two years, especially when important decisions are made. Now, with the boat, we have reached the crucial stage of underwater exploration.

The eight countries represented in the mission were parties to the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. However, a joint collaboration of this size between the convention signatories has never happened before, Faynot said.

Likewise, the scope of the expedition to Skerki Banks is unparalleled, an area with a long history of use which over the past century has attracted treasure-seeking divers but few government-sponsored conservationists. ‘State.

“This space has for centuries played an essential role in the military, commercial, cultural and religious dialogue of the Mediterranean basin. In fact, we know that this region of the Mediterranean was a busy maritime trade route used from ancient times until today, for more than three millennia,” Faynot said.

“In antiquity, it was a direct sea route between Carthage and Rome. Located between the western and eastern basins of the Mediterranean Sea and between the south and the north of this sea, it has always served as a point of contact between many cultures, which also means that several wars have also been fought.

The cultural significance of the site is not the only reason why experts are so keen to study it.

“Due to the special geological features of the Skerki Bank, such as rocky elevations and other natural hazards below the surface, archaeologists believe that hundreds of ships were wrecked there over the centuries and even into the Second World War”, declared the Representative of Unesco.

However, the purpose of the mission is not the excavation, but rather a simple investigation. “The idea today is to try to draw up an inventory of the wrecks that could be there,” said Michel L’Hour, the French representative of the expedition. France info.

Transporting the 12 mission archaeologists is the Alfred Merlin, a state-of-the-art archaeological research vessel launched by the French Ministry of Culture last year. The vessel is equipped with civilian underwater drones and is built to operate with limited environmental impact.

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