The Italian Almanac

model of a roman ship

Italian History - August 13

Italian archaeologists believe they are on the verge of finding the ancient ships downed in the battle of the Aegates Islands more than 2,000 years ago thanks to modern technology and a police tip-off.

After two years of underwater searches around the islands, which lie west of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, experts last year found a bronze helmet and some amphorae from about 241 BC, the date of the decisive Roman victory over the Carthage fleet. At around the same time, a team of Italy's famed art police busted a collector who had a ship's bronze battering ram from the same period on display in his home. It turned out the relic had been illegally looted using nets from the same area.

Unfortunately for Sicily's archaeologists, that area lies 70 metres (230 feet) below sea level. Experts from Sicily and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in Austin, Texas used sonar and multi-beam bathymetric technology to scan the sea bed and sent down remotely controlled cameras.

"Now, we're certain we have found the location of the battle, but we have yet to discover how much was actually preserved," said Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily's chief of marine culture. "What we really expect to find are remnants of the warships with battering rams and various other weapons like helmets, lances and the heavier tools that would have sunk immediately."

He said works, which were put on hold for analysis of the data, will resume in September and that a discovery could be announced as soon as October.