Naples, Italy divers recently found a chunk of obsidian in the remains of an ancient shipwreck near Capri. The ship likely dates back to the Neolithic period, also known as the New Stone Age.
This piece of natural glass is as big as a huge book and weighs around 17.6 pounds (8 kilograms). There are marks on its surface where someone chiseled into it. Archaeologists believe it was an obsidian “core,” a tool used to create sharp-edged flakes for cutting things.
On Monday (November 20th), divers from the Naples Police underwater unit brought up the artifact. They found it on the seafloor, about 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 meters) below the surface, as stated by Italy’s Ministry of Culture.
The dive took place near Capri’s well-known Blue Grotto, a sea cave where the Roman Emperor Tiberius used to bathe privately. Tiberius had a palace on the island. Nowadays, the cave is a tourist spot you can reach by boat.
However, as reported by Live Science, swimming is not permitted at the location because the waves and tides make it too risky.
The first artifact from the Neolithic shipwreck recovered
The police diving team discovered the underwater site in October. The exact location has not been revealed so as to prevent looting, as mentioned in the statement.
This obsidian core is the first item brought up from the wreckage, but experts believe there could be more. Archaeologists believe this natural glass was once part of the cargo on a ship during the Neolithic period over five thousand years ago.
However, it is unlikely we will find the actual boat because wood from that time usually doesn’t last but rots away, Live Science reported.
Archaeologists found a #Neolithic shipwreck carrying a load of worked obsidian cores off the coast of Capri in the Bay of Naples (#Italy). Original statement in Italian here: https://t.co/kvy7ybSPOq News in English here: https://t.co/ATjtxgka0t pic.twitter.com/DoRLfJyU5s
— European Association of Archaeologists (@archaeologyEAA) November 23, 2023
The archaeologists working on this project praised the skills of the police divers. They pointed out that the site is in deep water, making it challenging for archaeological work and recovery. The artifact is currently stored in Naples and will undergo cleaning, examination, and preservation soon, according to the statement.
Use of Obsidian cores in ancient times
Obsidian is a dense black glass formed from cooled lava. It breaks into pieces with sharp edges, and it was used in ancient times in the production of cutting and piercing tools.
We are not yet aware of where this obsidian comes from, but there are deposits of it on several volcanic islands in the Mediterranean, including Palmarola near Naples and Lipari near Sicily, as reported by Live Science.
Sean Kingsley, a maritime archaeologist and editor-in-chief of Wreckwatch Magazine, suggests the obsidian might have been for trade. Alternatively, it could have been used to make ritual items similar to those found in Capri’s Neolithic Grotta delle Felci.