Iliad Underwater Cultural Heritage of Israel Pilot Explores the Depths of History

Iliad Underwater Cultural Heritage of Israel Pilot Explores the Depths of History

In the quest to preserve and explore the rich tapestry of history that lies beneath the waves, the EU-funded Iliad project has embarked on a remarkable journey. Among its pilot sites, the “Underwater Cultural Heritage of Israel” stands out as a beacon of innovation and discovery.

This digital product is not merely a database; it is a comprehensive GIS-based map collection that breathes life into the archaeological wonders submerged beneath the sea and scattered along the shores of Israel’s vibrant coastal region.

A Digital Odyssey Beneath the Waves

The Iliad project’s digital tools help unlock the mysteries of the deep, embarking on a unique journey through time and seas. The project’s diving path reveals chapters of human history and the Land of Israel’s past that have long been hidden underwater. The mission is clear: to map, preserve and manage the remnants of ancient civilizations along the Israeli coast by providing this vital information tool to institutions, scientists, government authorities, and private planning bodies.

At the helm of this mission are the Iliad research partners: Professor Ehud Galili, Dr. Ehud Arkin Shalev, Dr. Semion Polinov, Dr. Isaac Ogloblin Ramirez, Dr. Dori Edelist, and Wasim Hamdan. These marine archaeologists and experts  from the University of Haifa are responsible for the pilot project on Israel’s underwater cultural heritage. 

The Challenge: Protecting Israel’s Coastal Treasures

Israel’s Mediterranean coast faces extreme pressures from development, residential construction, infrastructure, and sand  quarrying. To combat these threats and manage the ancient remains, a reliable database is essential. The solution lies in an online, GIS-based database that catalogues coastal and underwater cultural heritage sites.

Megalithic structure in the submerged Neolithic settlement. | Photo By: Atlit Yam

For over sixty years, underwater and coastal archaeological studies have unveiled a plethora of ancient findings along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. From shipwrecks and cargos to harbors, anchorages, coastal installations and submerged prehistoric settlements, these discoveries paint a vivid picture of the past. Yet, much of this information, originating from handwritten survey reports, remains unpublished and inaccessible to the public.

The Database: A Portal to the Past

The Iliad project has compiled all available data into an accessible online database, featuring detailed GIS mapping of maritime and coastal antiquities. The sites are classified into four main categories: 

  • Flooded prehistoric settlements

  • Shipwrecks and cargoes

  • Harbors and anchorages

  • Coastal sites and installations. 

The database, prepared from nine maritime survey maps, provides comprehensive information on each site, including coordinates, chronological and typological details, water depth, bottom composition, visibility, accessibility, and legal and protection status.

The major risks to this heritage include treasure hunting, looting, and damage from marine construction. To address these challenges, proper legislation, law enforcement, education, and collaboration with relevant public groups and institutions are crucial. Nationally, well-trained diving inspectors and marine archaeologists are needed to patrol, identify, and conserve endangered sites. These may be augmented by well-trained citizen scientists, contributing their own observations. 

Mapping the Future

The Iliad pilot features GIS mapping of three sections of the Israeli Mediterranean coast, providing a wealth of information on the underwater and coastal archaeological sites. This initiative will lead to scientific and popular publications, enhancing public awareness and contributing to the preservation and protection of marine cultural heritage.

As we delve into the depths of Israel’s underwater cultural heritage, the Iliad project stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of our ancestors and the innovative spirit of modern archaeology. It is a journey that not only uncovers the past but also safeguards it for future generations.

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