Underwater Archaeology of the Croatian Adriatic

Dr. Potrebica’s presentation on the underwater archaeological discoveries off the coast of Croatia was very interesting; it is incredible to think about how much of the worlds history is hidden under the Adriatic Sea. The Croatian Adriatic is home to more that 400 sites, 200 of which are shipwrecks, and all of these contain links to the ancient and more recent past. One thing that amazed me about the material culture found in the Adriatic was that of the bronze statue of Apoxyomeno, also known as “The Scraper”, discovered at Losinj by Renne Wouters, a Belgian tourist on a quest to photograph fish. This Roman Bronze statue is believed to have been a copy of Lysippos’ (a sculptor courted to Alexander the Great) famous bronze sculpture that had been also copied in marble. Because there was no evidence of a shipwreck in the area in which the sculpture was found, it is believed that the ship originally carrying the piece had at one point taken on some type of distress, causing the crew to toss the heaviest items overboard to make it back to shore. Researchers have also discovered a mouse nest within the sculpture, suggesting it was abandoned or neglected on land before its final abandonment out to sea. It seems strange to me that a bronze copy of such a well known or prized piece, prized enough to warrant a copy made of marble as well, would be basically thrown out.

Another thing I found interesting was the fact that through these underwater sites, researchers can better understand Roman maritime trade routes from the east and the west which ended up in the Adriatic. The archaeological remains of these maritime complexes help paint a better picture of what, how much of, when, how, and where different products were being shipped. Many shipping vessels such as amphora have been found at the bottom of the Adriatic, along with oil lamps, kitchen course ware, etc. I recently read an article for another class by an MSU Packaging alum about the ancient transport of amphoras. They are designed to be easily moved around as well as easy to stack and store. They were also lined with a glaze so they would not leak their contents and the strong clay material used in the making of these amphora was helpful in preventing breakage during transit because they were intended to be reused. This makes them the perfect vessel for shipping and handling (below is a link to the article). Due to the fact that these ceramic containers were designed to withstand the ware and tare that comes with being shipped on rough seas, it it understandable why they have stood the test of time under the sea. Because these vessel were in fact made to be packed in tightly on top of one another in large quantities, it is easier to understand why great numbers of amphora were found stacked up in rows beneath the Adriatic. Many of these amphora were stamped or carved with identification markers that allowed people to know where the vessel came from, where it was going, what it contained, or how much it weighed.

I was also glad Dr. Potrebica brought up some of the ship and plane wrecks from WWI and WWII that were also found under the sea. Many people focus only on the ancient past in areas near the Adriatic, but I was interested in some of the things he had to say about 19th and 20th century wrecks found off the coast of Croatia. These types of remains found through underwater archaeology can help reshape our recent past which is just as important to learn from as the ancient past. There is so much more that can be learned from what lies under the sea through underwater archaeology (in addition to the Little Mermaid), allowing us to put together the pieces of the past.

Click to access 185%20twede.pdf

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