Chiselled Lava-Glass Found on Stone Age Wreck

A team of police divers from Naples recovered the obsidian block from the seafloor near the Italian island of Capri on Monday.

Archaeologists have discovered potential cargo from a Neolithic shipwreck near Capri, consisting of several obsidian blocks on the seabed exhibiting distinct signs of tool processing typical for Stone Age implements. These artifacts, estimated to be over 5,000 years old, are believed to originate from a prehistoric shipwreck or raft that sank off the coast of Capri. The preservation status of the vessel itself remains uncertain, as recovery efforts are still ongoing.

The exact emergence of seafaring and the commencement of humans constructing the earliest seaworthy boats is a question yet to be definitively answered. However, there are indications that our Stone Age ancestors navigated seas using rafts or canoes, as evident in the human migration across waterways to regions such as Australia and Oceania. Archaeologists speculate that the Megalithic culture may have spread along the western European coasts through Stone Age seafarers.

Obsidian Blanks on the Seabed

Dives off the coast of Capri.
Dives off the coast of Capri.

Archaeologists recently uncovered evidence of prehistoric seafaring near the Italian island of Capri. Divers, exploring the waters close to the White Grotto of Capri at depths of 30 to 40 meters, discovered scattered archaeological objects on the seabed. Among these finds were obsidian blocks displaying signs of shaping. Underwater archaeologists were successful in recovering one obsidian block, which measured about 20 by 28 by 15 centimeters and weighed about eight kilograms.

According to archaeologists, this dark volcanic glass block served as a blank, from which smaller pieces were struck to create sharp stone blades and knives. The processing of this obsidian is dated back to the Neolithic period, around 5,000 years ago.

Relics of Stone Age Seafaring

Der erste geborgene Obsidianblock.
Der erste geborgene Obsidianblock.

What sets these discoveries apart is that the obsidian block and other artifacts did not originate from the coast but must have been transported to this maritime area by raft or ship. Archaeologists therefore hypothesize that the scattered seabed finds are remnants of a prehistoric shipwreck, suggesting that the Neolithic vessel, laden with obsidian and other objects, sank in this location.

Archaeology Superintendent Mariano Nuzzo explained that in order to determine whether the ship’s hull or other cargo materials are present, a thorough instrumental survey of the seabed is now necessary. However, the likelihood of the raft or ship itself surviving after millennia is deemed low. Underwater archaeologists are currently in the process of recovering the artifacts from the seabed, storing them, and examining them in Naples.

Further examinations of the obsidian blocks aim to determine the origin of the volcanic glass. It is probable that the obsidian originated from the region, given the presence of volcanic islands, including Palmarola and Lipari, in the Mediterranean area known to harbor obsidian, as explained by the research team.