University of Malta

The Phoenician Shipwreck Project
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Institutions 2007-2010: Survey: University of Malta, Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, Heritage Malta supported by AURORA Trust.

Institutions 2014 Survey: University of Malta, Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, University of Aix Marseille, COMEX and LSIS/CNRS supported by ANR (France) in the framework of “Contenus numériques et interactions” (CONTINT) 2013.

Institutions 2016 Survey: University of Malta, Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, University of Aix Marseille and LSIS/CNRS supported by the University of Malta.

Project Director 2007 to present: Dr Timmy Gambin - University of Malta

Co-director 2014-present: Prof Jean Christophe Sourisseau - University Aix Marseille/CNRS

Sponsors for 2016:  University of Malta and Foster Clarks Ltd.

Over the past years, the University of Malta together with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has conducted a number of systematic remote sensing surveys off the coasts of the Maltese Islands. The strategic aim of this survey is to create a detailed map of archaeological sites located on the seabed off Malta and Gozo. using state of the art sonar technologies large areas are surveyed and objects identified and logged. Sites vary in size, state of preservation as well as in date.

The Discovery

The deployment of the sonar in a particular search area resulted in the team recognising an anomaly which was duly listed as ‘interesting’. Following the return of the team with a higher resolution sonar there was little doubt that the anomaly was indeed an ancient shipwreck. But it was not until the subsequent year that a remote operated vehicle (ROV) was deployed to further explore the target. Through the first images that were broadcast back to the screen on the vessel it was clear that this was a very old and special shipwreck. The team proceeded to obtain video footage, still photographs and other images that were used to produce a photomosaic of the site. Data acquired in this initial phase helped establish that the shipwreck, situated at a depth of 110m, is Phoenician and datable to circa the 7th century BC. 

Exploration and Study

Once the age and typology of the shipwreck were identified it became clear that this unique site deserved to be explored and studied in depth. The first question that needed to be answered is whether there was any more archaeology buried in the sediments located under the visible layer. To this end a Sub Bottom Profiler was deployed over the site to read into the layers of sand and silt. Close to two meters of archaeology remains buried in the seabed. It was not until 2014 however that an international team was formed to conduct further studies on the site. A manned submersible was used to explore the shipwreck in close proximity whilst simultaneously using three high-resolution still cameras to obtain thousands of photographs. The latter were stitched together to form a 3D photogrammetric image of the entire archaeological site. This very high resolution survey of the shipwreck permitted archaeologists to better understand the make up of the cargo as well as select some important pieces for recovery. 

In 2016, a team of specialised technical divers returned to the site. The main objectives were to a) record the site as it was left in 2014; b) recover some more artefacts and c) to record the site after the latest recovery. Dives dedicated to recording processes were followed by dives for the retrieval of important objects from the seabed. 

The Cargo

The shipwreck consists of a very well preserved cargo made up of various objects. Indeed it is to date the only well-preserved mixed Phoenician cargo to be discovered. Ceramics are concentrated in the middle part of the shipwreck and include amphorae from the central Mediterranean and the Tyrrhenian Sea as well as various types of urns. Seven typologies of ceramic containers have been identified including thermal jug that is on display. Both extremities of the ship were laden with saddle querns. These were used as grinding stones for the preparation of food. The fact that these stones are not worn in any way clearly indicates that they were brand new. Tests carried out on the volcanic rock have confirmed Pantelleria as the place of origin for these querns. Its age and diverse nature truly make this a unique and precious archaeological resource.

The Shipwreck and the Gozo Museum

Heritage Malta and the Ministry for Gozo have recently been awarded €5 million from the European Regional Development Fund for the relocation of heritage collections on the island of Gozo. The new Gozo Museum will be situated in the former Lyceum and will also house the archaeological heritage currently on display in the Gozo Museum of Archaeology - a space that does not do justice to the archaeological heritage of this island. It is envisaged that the new museum will boast a wonderful collection of Gozo’s underwater cultural heritage. The objects from the Phoenician Shipwreck will take pride of place in this collection and may, if fully excavated, take pride of place in what promises to be an outstanding museum. 

Link to 2014 season:

Link to our paper: 

Last Updated: 17 January 2017

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