Focus: Underwater archaeology: innovative French expertise

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The great scale of the French maritime area (the second-largest worldwide behind the United States) explains France’s advanced underwater archaeology techniques and gives it a leading role in this field. The Department for Underwater Archaeological Research (DRASSM) is one of the pillars of that expertise: as a department of the Ministry of Culture and Communication based in Marseille, it groups together specialized archaeologists whose expertise in this field is called upon worldwide.

Underwater archaeological prospection involves teams of divers from various disciplines (archaeologists, topographers, photographers, etc.) who clear remains using dredges or airlifts. Photogrammetry (a 3D modelling method using a set of photographs) sometimes supplements this work by reconstructing remains, particularly when they are large structures such as ships or homes. In the case of low-depth remains, drones can also be used to provide an overview of sites.

The archaeological missions supported by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development include several examples of underwater research, such as in Croatia. The excavations of the archaeological missions in Istria and Caska, led respectively by Marie-Brigitte Carre and Giulia Boetto, are carried out in a submerged coastal environment (Istria and Dalmatia) and internal waters (River Kupa). They are supported by the teams of the Camille Jullian Centre, a laboratory for underwater Mediterranean and African archaeology at Aix-Marseille University which trains international specialists.

The first mission is dedicated to studying maritime villas that are now submerged on the Adriatic Coast, and has shown that Istria was occupied by the Romans from the beginning of the Common Era. Several types of structure have been revealed and studied, including former quays and jetties for the export of agricultural products to Italy, and an ancient maritime villa famous for its amphorae workshop (Loron estate), demonstrating the intense economic and commercial life of the region in Roman times.

The second focuses on the ship-building traditions of the Eastern Adriatic, and has been studying eight maritime transport shipwrecks, dated between late Bronze Age and Late Antiquity, since 2007. In 2015, the excavation of the wreck of a flat-bottomed boat dated between the first and second centuries CE, discovered in the River Kupa at Kamensko (Karlovac), established links between several ship-building traditions. The similarities observed raise the question of ties between the Adriatic Coast and the continental regions of the Danube basin at that time.

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Updated: december 2016

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