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.