Studying the past requires looking at both literary and material evidence. The latter is commonly understood to include artefacts and architecture that historians are usually able to immerse themselves in by walking, driving or flying to a site.
Rather than making discoveries through immersion, Prof. Timmy Gambin has, for the past two decades, been submerging himself into historical evidence. Together with a number of colleagues, he has been busy probing the depths of the seas around the Maltese Islands making surprising discoveries on the Maltese seabed, where history is as rich as it is above the ground, if not more.
Ever since he was finishing his undergraduate studies in history at the University of Malta, Prof. Gambin has been driven by the question of how much of our history is reflected on the seabed. Having contributed to the discovery of more than 25 ancient shipwrecks around the world, some of which are close to our shores, he can confidently say – a lot of it is, and there is still a lot to discover.
So far, Prof. Gambin and his team have found a variety of sites that range from the Phoenician Shipwreck dating 700 years BC to planes that crashed off Malta in the Cold War … and of course many sites from all historic periods in between. The latest discoveries are being shared on a dedicated website, which is being updated as more discoveries are made.
I am unashamedly proud of the sites we have in Malta and truly believe that we have a unique concentration of shipwrecks around our islands.
With diving season being underway, as it happens every spring season, Prof. Gambin is also taking the opportunity to run a large survey with the ultimate aim of creating an archaeological map of all of Malta’s territorial waters. This is done by utilising an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, which carries a high-resolution side scan sonar.
The main challenge of such a project is that the team does not own its own research vessel, so a big chunk of the budget assigned goes towards what they call a ‘vessel of opportunity’. However, in this regard, the University of Malta has been lately commissioned by the Malta Tourism Authority to create and launch a virtual museum of underwater archaeology – and this might attract more funding to the project. Although this is a large-scale, ambitious project, Prof. Gambin is confident that “slowly and surely, we will reap the effort we are sowing”.
In tandem with these two main projects, work is being undertaken between the Department of Classics & Archaeology and the Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit at Heritage Malta, as well as the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, to devise a system whereby the results from the University's survey are used to inform decisions as to the protection and management of Malta's underwater cultural heritage. These decisions include which sites to open to divers and which ones to declare as protected.
Other than all of these projects, Prof. Gambin is also very much involved in the organisation of the taught Masters programme in Maritime Archaeology, that has been running since 2016. One of the major advantages of this course is that the maritime heritage is within close proximity to where the students are based. Talks are delivered by current students to prospective applicants – as Prof. Gambin rightly believes there is no better way to communicate the quality and breadth of the course.
What’s in the near future of Prof. Timmy Gambin? More teaching, more fieldwork, more research and more admin work. “I consider myself immensely lucky to be able to do what I do and I am really looking forward to the exciting discoveries the next few years will bring.”
You can view, listen to and follow a Marine Tech Talk podcast Prof. Gambin participated in recently, on YouTube.