An area covering a total of 67,000 square metres on the seabed of Xlendi, Gozo, has just been inaugurated as the world’s first deepwater archaeological park, which will open for divers in the summer of 2023.
The area which now hosts the archaeological park was initially recognised as an Archaeological Zone at Sea by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in 2019, following numerous studies and projects organised by both national and international institutions which uncovered the archaeological potential of this site.
The site’s designation as an Archaeological Zone at Sea and, consequently, as an archaeological park, allows the recognition and delineation of the site as an underwater area of archaeological importance that is to be protected and conserved. An underwater area that has been classified as an Archaeological Area at Sea calls for special enforcement that is not afforded to other underwater sites, and are subject to several conditions intended to protect the area from inadvertent and potentially damaging interference.
Indeed, this underwater area off Xlendi Bay has for decades been known as a significant location, attracting continual diving expeditions and offering vast repositories of archaeological material and research opportunities. Many of the objects recovered from this site in the 1960s are in fact currently on display at the Gozo Archaeology Museum, and range from amphorae, urns, and lead anchor stocks.
According to Heritage Malta’s Underwater Cultural Heritage head, Prof. Timmy Gambin, the topography of the seabed in this area is mainly flat and sandy with occasional rocky outcrops. In some areas the sand is fine and light whereas in others it seems to be coarse. To date, the exact depth of the seabed sediments are unknown as are the currents and sediment movements within the area of study.
Since 2006 a number of survey projects in the general area of Xlendi were conducted by the University of Malta supported by the AURORA Special Purpose Trust and RPM Nautical in collaboration with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and Heritage Malta. Results from these projects included the systematic survey of the entire area off Xlendi Bay, the mapping of sediment depths and a complete photographic and video record of the site.
Although the park is located at significant depths ranging from approximately 95 to 110 metres, making it accessible only to technical divers, a virtual museum created by Heritage Malta’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit allows the general public to share in this unique experience.
It is believed that the site will continue to reveal vast amounts of archaeological material, including numerous other amphorae that may be buried in soft sediments and therefore currently undiscoverable.
The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage is eager to discover the full potential of the site and thanks all stakeholders involved in the process of researching, conserving, and classifying the site as the world’s first archaeological park.