Le Formiche shipwreck site—comprising the remains of a Roman merchantman—was surveyed and studied in the summer of 2009, near the island of Capraia in the Ligurian Sea. The underwater survey and excavation project was conducted by a joint team of archaeologists from ProMare and SBAToscana, Tuscany’s Underwater Archaeological Operative Unit (Nucleo Operativo Subacqueo). The vessel, which may have originated from a port on the central Italian coast facing the Tyrrhenian Sea was likely destined for southern France.

Artifacts that were recovered from the site included commercial storage containers (amphoras), black-glazed Campanian ceramics, and an oil lamp. No wooden remains of the ship’s hull were discovered, but artifacts that were parts of the vessel such as metal fasteners and nails (indicative of wood planking), the remains of an anchor, and roof tiles that were typically used to cover the roof of a ship’s galley, indicated the possibility of a deteriorated hull. Comparative dating of the diagnostic artifacts – based on the parallels identified for the amphoras, Campanian ceramics, and a preserved bronze coin – suggest a late second – early first century BC date for the site.

The fact that the artifacts were scattered in sand pockets inside and around a large posidonia growth seemed to indicate that parts of the site are obscured by this seagrass. A trench was excavated to test this hypothesis and several artifacts were recovered from beneath the roots.

Analysis of the archaeological data indicates that the assemblage represents the remains of a ship that was travelling a well-known route frequented by many similar vessels in this period. This conclusion is supported by comparisons between the artifacts found in the assemblage of Le Formiche Shipwreck and those discovered among the remains of several ships that carried amphoras and black-glazed Campanian ceramics from central Italy towards the sourthern France. Shipwreck assemblages that contain parallels with Le Formiche include those from Pegli, Albenga, Antibes, Dramont A, Cap Roux, Villepey, Anthéor, Bon Porte, Titan, Tiboulen, Cavalière, Spargi, Port Vendres and especially Grand Congloué II.



The island of Pianosa, part of Italy’s Tuscan archipelago, is located approximately 60 km east of the Italian mainland and 15 km south of Elba Island. Notable as the place the Emperor Augustus exiled his nephew Agrippa Posthumous in A.D. 6-7, the remote island was transformed to house this member of the imperial elite with a luxurious palace, thermal baths, a theater, and a fishpond built. The construction of a small harbor, of which some walls of possible Roman age have been found, appears to be contemporary with the Roman villa.

Between May 25th and June 5th, 2009, ProMare collaborated with Dr. Pamela Gambogi of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana, and with Dr. Kim McCoy of the NATO Undersea Research Center of La Spezia (NURC), to conduct an extensive AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) survey of the southern side of Pianosa Island. The use of AUVs, originally designed for the military and geophysical research, has proven highly effective when searching for submerged archaeological sites. The project was the second in a series of expeditions, beginning in 2008, that aimed to create a new and detailed map of all the archaeological material on the seafloor in proximity to the island. Pianosa, where a high-security penitentiary was active up until the late 1990s, is one of the few areas in Italy that has remained off-limits to divers, fishermen, and tourists for the past fifty years, and is thus an undisturbed area in which to conduct research and locate archaeological sites in a pristine state of preservation. A Remus 100 AUV, which NURC made available to the project, was used to map the seafloor with a side-scan-sonar up to a depth of 50 m, and the data was collected and geo-referenced using Site Recorder 4®, a geographic information system and mapping software.

In 2009, the team revisited a previously identified underwater site, located at a depth of 34 m, close to the rock called La Scola. There, approximately 100 amphoras of different types were spread across a vast expanse of the seafloor, instead of being concentrated in the typical “mound” formation that characterizes most shipwrecks. The vessel types identified fall within a broad chronological time frame, stretching from the first century B.C. to the third century A.D. It is possible that the site represents two or more wrecks, or a dump site, or an ancient anchorage situated immediately southwest from the small island port. Further research will be needed to understand in what circumstances this site was created.


Dolia Shipwreck: The Roman Shipwreck of Punta del Nasuto (Elba Island, Tuscany) (2008)

Elba, the largest island in the Tuscan archipelago, lies between the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas, 20 kilometers off-shore from the town of Piombino, on the Italian mainland. In March 2008, the NATO Underwater Research Center (NURC) from La Spezia, Italy, dispatched to Elba an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) to investigate a previously sighted wreck of a Roman merchant ship (50 BC – AD 50) sunk nearly 300 meters off shore and 65 meters deep, with a cargo of dolia (storage containers). The AUV determined the maximum extent of the site and produced a site map, resulting in the first comprehensive image with all the dolia visible on the seafloor, as well as several buried ‘anomalies’ at either end of the site that may have been amphorae stored at the bow and the stern sections of the ship.

During the field season of September 2-11, 2008, a team consisting of scientists and technicians from the Soprintendenza peri Beni Archeologici della Toscana, the Interuniversity Center for Marine Environment from Politecnico delle Marche University (ISME), the non-profit organizations Explorer Team Chimera, the firefighters and mooring men of Piombino, and ProMare, returned to excavate a test trench through the site. The divers deployed a USBL (Ultra Short Base Line) positioning system to map the site, which was determined to be 7.5 m long and 4 m wide, that the mouth of one dolium is equal to 0.74 m in diameter (including the lip), and that all the dolia openings were oriented in the same North-Eastern direction and listing to one side, as the ship itself would have been immediately after coming to rest on the seafloor. Based on the dolia types found, the merchantman most likely dates to 50 BC-AD 50, the transitional phase between the Roman Republic and the Imperial periods, when ships carrying cargoes of wine travelled to Gaul.