Underwater archaeological reconnaissance of the Istrian coast
Over the past four years the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology has been involved in the underwater archaeological reconnaissance of the Istrian coast. This reconnaissance was initiated in the 1960s by archaeologist Štefan Mlakar of Pula's Archaeological Museum of Istria. Joining the museum in Pula in the reconnaissance of the Istrian seabed were divers of the present-day Croatian Conservation Institute. Since ICUA joined the reconnaissance effort, over twenty-four positions on the western and eastern coast of the southern part of the Istrian peninsula have been surveyed. Finds of various characteristics have been collected, from those among the remains of Roman period and Post Medieval shipwrecks to architectural structures from the Roman period. Small archaeological finds were for the most part left on the seabed following photographic documentation. The finds extracted from the sea are in the process of desalination at the restoration and conservation department of the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar.
The result of multiannual reconnaissance is the discovery of several previously unknown sites. Particularly noteworthy are newly discovered shipwreck sites – four Early Roman and three Late Roman. The Early Roman shipwrecks are Uljeva A at Cape Uljeva near Ližnjan with a cargo of amphorae largely of the Lamboglia II type, a possible shipwreck near the islet of Sveti Ivan Na Pučini (lighthouse) near Rovinj with a cargo of the same type of amphorae, the remains of a shipwreck at Sika Rock near Marlera with sherds of Dressel 6 type amphorae and spicatum brick and a shipwreck near Seka Rock to the east of the village of Kavran that transported building materials including tegulae. The Late Roman shipwreck are Uljeva B at Cape Uljeva near Ližnjan with a cargo of amphorae of African provenance, for the most part of the Keay 3B type, and the wrecks of ships transporting African amphorae near the island of Sveti Ivan and at the islet of Veliki Piruz in the waters of Rovinj. The reconnaissance established that irresponsible local and foreign divers looted the shipwrecks.
The reconnaissance documented the remains of significant maritime and economic buildings of coastal villae rusticae at the Bay of Kolone near Bale and at Villas Rubin near Rovinj. An unusual drystone wall structure was found in the shallows of Mučje Sike at Villas Rubin with a length of about 50 metres including an aperture or apertures at its base to which we cannot currently attribute either a purpose or dating. Also of interest is a dock in the Bay of Vinjole of uncertain date. Potsherds found incrusted in the structure of the dock date it to the Early Roman period, but Post Medieval potsherds are also to be found here.
Several locations were also surveyed on this occasion where refuse has been dumped for years. Of particular interest is the Rovinj refuse dump at Sveta Katarina island with remains of pottery, glass, kitchenware, brick and roof tiles from the 17th to 20th century period. Also identified among these fragments was pottery from the earlier 15th to 17th century period, and amphorae sherds that indicate the possible presence of a Roman period shipwreck. Protection and a more detailed survey of this location would, therefore, be appropriate. Another refuse dump is also found at the anchorage position in Lone Cove – identified here along with contemporary refuse are amphorae sherds, Medieval pottery and Post Medieval finds. Also surveyed was the seabed off Crveni Otok (the islands Sveti Andrija and Maškin).
Post Medieval pottery was also identified at cove off Cape Zlatni (Zlatni rt) and at the Bolnica – Južna Uvala position in Rovinj. Some twenty years ago an Italian national despoiled a large quantity of Post Medieval pottery from the cove at the Bolnica position. Amphorae sherds from various periods were identified on the seabed off Cape Gustinja, while the amphorae reported by local inhabitants on the seabed off Cape Kuvi were not found. A large heap of stone, likely unloaded from a vessel, was identified off Veštar island, while a large number of barrel roof tiles from the 17th to 19th century period found at Magareći Otok (Samera island) may indicate a Post Medieval shipwreck. One stone and one iron anchor were found here along with the barrel roof tiles.
Several other coves of interest were surveyed but did not yield archaeological finds. Faborso Cove, for example, where traces of Roman period agrarian production (pressing canals hewn into living stone) are visible on the shore, and the ancient anchorage at Vinkuran Cove. A Post Medieval dock was identified at Luka Cove under the castle at Rakalj.
Dives were conducted at positions that, until recently, were used by the Armed Forces and to which access had been prohibited. These are Žunac Cove, where sherds of Roman period ware and amphorae were identified, and the very interesting position of the former army shooting range near Sika Rock where the remains of the already cited Early Roman shipwreck were found among the metal remains of military hardware and air-to-ground training bombs.
Also conducted in the frame of the reconnaissance was a survey of the condition of the underwater museum at the Buje shallows near Umag and the conditions of the trenches at the Vižula site near Medulin researched in preceding years, where the documentary evidence was supplemented and reviewed. Also conducted on this occasion was a tour of a registered cultural good, the wreck of the Baron Gautsch near Rovinj.
The reconnaissance was conducted in the frame of regular annual Ministry of Culture cultural heritage protection programmes. It was followed by the investigation of two shipwrecks at Cape Uljeva. The reconnaissance has demonstrated that the seabed of the northern Adriatic still holds numerous cultural heritage finds unknown to the broader public, and these insights will serve to complete and correct the MACHU.HR underwater cultural heritage digital database maintained by the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar.