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The city of Croton, located on the Ionian coast of modern Calabria in Southern Italy, has always played a crucial role for sailors headed to the Strait of Messina and the western Mediterranean, due to its east-facing harbor and a rocky coastline full of small bays and wind-sheltered coves. In antiquity, the coastline seems to have been even more articulated and complex than it currently is: Pliny the Elder (NH III, 10.95-96) describes a small archipelago of five islands in the area that has since disappeared from view. Two of the islands were still observable in 1525 in the nautical charts of the seafarer and geographer Piri Reis, and were last documented in a Greek portolano written by an anonymous sailor in the 16th century. The Abbé de Saint-Non and C. Tait Ramage, when they visited the area in the 18th and 19th centuries, also left drawings of promontories in the area which no longer exist.

In 2009 and 2010 the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Calabria, under Dr. Domenico Marino’s scientific direction, with support from ProMare, launched a systematic exploration of the Crotonian littoral between the city’s harbor and La Tonnara. While the area of Croton was already known to be one of the richest in Italy for the presence of ancient shipwrecks (five Roman marble carriers are worth mentioning, along with 10 other shipwrecks ranging in time from the Greek Archaic period to the Renaissance Age), the main goal of the project was to search for traces of ancient habitation which might testify to changes in the coastline. Submerged features such as quarries with their carved blocks still connected to the bedrock, and the presence of artifact assemblages close to the shoreline, were among the types of evidence sought. If found, the former feature, in particular, would be useful in helping researchers reconstruct and date stone-working areas that were above sea-level in antiquity.

During two seasons of research, compelling evidence attesting to this coastal transformation was uncovered. Thirty-four submerged quarry elements (blocks and column-drums), some of them dating to the 6th century BC and still attached to the bedrock, were located at a maximum depth of 4 m; a new map of the quarry now shows the extent of this feature beneath the water. Additionally, numerous tiles and amphora sherds, one example of which dated to the 3rd century B.C., confirmed the presence of human habitation in the areas of the coastline now submerged beneath the sea. Pieces of amphoras dating to the Roman Imperial period and found at the entrance to the city’s harbor, testify, as well, to its use at from at least the 2nd century B.C.

At the end of the 2010 season enough data was collected to propose a possible reconstruction of the ancient coastline in the area. Each item or feature uncovered was measured and georeferenced, making it possible to trace the general shape of the former coastline, which was at least 70 m further offshore than at present. GPS coordinates, taken manually, and following the submerged outlines of three elongated shoals, 1 to 5 m deep, revealed the shape of promontories now submerged like the tiny islands of Croton’s archipelago.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia



In the summer of 2011, the ProMare team (Ayse Atauz, Dante Bartoli, Peter Holt, and Lindsey Thomas) joined the University of Udine professor Massimo Capulli and his students (Lucrezia Federico, Daniel Iacumin, and Massimo Iob) and Texas A&M University professor Filipe Castro and his students (Kelby Rose and Kotaro Yamafune) to excavate a Roman shipwreck in the Stella River. The project was carried out under the general supervision of Prof. Luigi Fozzati of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Friuli-Venezia.

The Stella River was named Anaxum in Roman times, and has been a site of habitation for thousands of years. The largest Roman settlement near the Stella 1 shipwreck is Aquileia, which was founded in the 2nd century BCE.  It was the most important commercial hub of the northern Adriatic area before its utter destruction by Attila in A.D. 452 and later by the Lombards in A.D. 590, which caused its inhabitants to flee to the nearby lagoon and establish Venice.

In Northeastern Italy, there was a network of rivers, man-made canals, and lagoons that connected the populations of the southern base of the Alps and the large Roman city of Aquileia to the sea. The Stella River and the other inland waterways of Italy have played an important role in the development of the region by providing the means for an efficient transportation system.

The Stella 1 shipwreck is a laced vessel from the 1st century AD.  It was built at the beginning of the Roman Imperial Age and sank carrying a cargo of Roman tiles, a small collection of Dressel 2/4 and Lamboglia amphoras, presumably for the use of the crew, iron carpenter’s tools, a small wicker basket, and some ceramic artifacts, likely also for personal use. Stamps on the tiles indicate local production.

The team conducted a full recording of hull details and construction. In order to access some of the timbers, it was necessary to use a water dredge to remove the sediment obstructing access to the shipwreck. All extant timbers were recorded and a corresponding timber catalog created.  A combination of direct measurements and trilateration from control points was used to measure the vessel, and a reconstruction was created.  Both wooden and virtual 3D models are being created at the Texas A&M University Ship Reconstruction Laboratory by team members Filipe Castro and Kotaro Yamafune in order to better understand the vessel.

This barge was constructed with laced planks, following a traditional construction system in the region, which does not require the use of dowels to edge-fasten the planks together and provide resistance to sheer efforts, as in the Greek tradition of the Pre-Classical and Classical periods. Though the planking was sawn from timbers of good quality, repairs stretch across the bottom of the vessel.   

The first century AD was a time of extraordinary expansion for the Roman Empire, and the new Roman territories and settlements to the north and east of the Adriatic Sea required vast amounts of building material. Later, these settlements would able to establish their own production centers, but in the early phases of Romanization, most supplies were shipped from existing production centers. The Stella 1 vessel was likely part of this vast network of supply for the growing Roman Empire.  Loaded with locally made tile, the vessel may have been heading to Aquileia, from which the cargo could have been sent to any part of the expanding empire.

Maritime Viking Orkney

The Orkney Islands form a small archipelago on Scotland’s northern coast. Though they may seem remote and desolate to those who don’t live there, these islands have been the center of civilation for its inhabitants for thousands of years. The islands are famous for containing some of the richest archaeological heritage in Great Britain.

When the Vikings set forth from Scandinavia in the 8th century, the Orkney Islands acted as an excellent base for raiding and trading throughout the rest of Europe and beyond. Norse Vikings quickly took control of the Orkney Islands from the local Pictish population and made it a permanent settlement site. From there, they expanded across the north Atlantic, using the Orkneys as a base for expansion, raiding, and trading with the rest of Scotland, Ireland, Greenland, and Iceland.

Though some areas where the Vikings settled were uninhabited, others such as Orkney were not. Different groups of Vikings dealt with indigenous peoples in various manners. The late 12th-century Latin history text Historia Norvegiaerecords that the Norse in Orkney had to defeat the local Picts in order to settle there. Place names, one of the most useful indicators of Norse presence in Scotland, indicated that nearly all Pictish names were replaced by names of Norse origin in Orkney. Though there is still academic debate as to the exact nature of Viking and Pictish interaction, the wealth of archaeological material, historical evidence (in the form of documents such as the Orkneyinga Saga), and place names reveals that Viking presence in the Orkney Islands was very strong.

From the late 8th century until the mid-15th, the Orkney Islands were dominated by the Norse. Though the islands have been Scottish for more than half a millennia, Norse influence is still felt today in many areas, including the boat-building traditions and Udal law, the Viking maritime law that is still in use.

We have begun a research project aimed at looking at Norse expansion in the Orkney islands, specifically the maritime nature of life on the islands. Archaeologists and historians have been studying Viking Orkney for decades. We would like to join this endeavor, but with a maritime focus. There are many fascinating research questions that prompted this research, such as, how does the landscape and environment of Orkney change the way that Norse colonizers utilized the sea? What types of maritime traditions did they carry over from Norway, and which were changed? Boat building, and boat burials (three of which have been found on Orkney) remained very important to Orkney Vikings. This is particularly interesting because Orkney is essentially treeless. Broader questions include: how does one look at change in maritime traditions as a group of people adapt to a new environment and way of life?

This will be a partner project to our work in Norway and may develop into field work in cooperation with Orkney and other Scottish archaeologists. Ideally, we would like to use our research in Norway as a basis for comparative studies so that we can contribute to the knowledge base and better understand Viking Orkney.


Click on the links below to learn more about the Orkneyinga Saga

The Orkneyinga Saga: It’s Purpose and Accuracy

The Orkneyinga Saga in Context

 Gairsay Island and the Orkneyinga Saga


Click on the links below to learn more about the Vikings in Scotland

A Brief Introduction to Norse Expansion in Scotland

The Origin of the Orkney Vikings

The Picts and the Vikings


Click on the link below to learn more about archaeology in Scotland

A Short History of Shipwreck Protection in Scotland

An Introduction to the Types of Archaeological Organizations in Scotland

Government Archaeology Organizations

Archaeological Research Foundations

Contract Archaeology Companies

Countrywide Research Initiatives

Published Archaeological Resources