Croatia’s picturesque Adriatic coast is famous for its bays and islands, attracting millions of tourists every year. The region is rich in history and not only a paradise for vacationers but also for underwater archaeologists, who bring to light shipwrecks from all periods of time. Recently, the discovery of a particularly ancient ship was made public. It is almost 2000 years old and exceptionally well preserved.
The Barbir Port
The discovery was preceded by underwater excavations in the vicinity of the site. Where the popular tourist destination of Sukošan is today, the port of Barbir was located in ancient times. Its remains, now submerged in the sea, were discovered in 1973 and extensive excavations have taken place since 2017. The team consists of archaeologists of the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology (ICUA) in nearby Zadar, the university and the archaeological museum there and international members of Oxford University and the German Archaeological Institute.
Not much had been known about the ancient port until then. From their finds, the archaeologists concluded that the port was established in the 1st century AD and expanded in the mid-4th century. Finds such as amphorae, oil lamps and glass fragments from regions all around the Mediterranean Sea suggest that Barbir was an important trading post in these periods.
Coins Led the Way to the Wreck
Among the find from the 4th century were 30 bronze coins, found by archaeologists 1.50 meters below today’s seabed. They are from the time of the sons of Constantine I: Constantine II, Constantinus II and Constans. When unearthing the coins, the archaeologists also by chance discovered a piece of wood with a nail inside. Hoping to find a shipwreck, excavations in the area were expanded – and resulted in a sensational find.
The archaeologists discovered a large and unusually well preserved ship from Roman times, just two meters below sea level. Due to the low depth, the divers could work on the find for a long time at a stretch and quickly uncovered a large part of it. The wreck is three meters wide. Since the ship has not been fully excavated yet, the exact length is still unknown. So far, nine meters were unearthed and recorded – the archaeologists believe this to be about half of the wreck. The director of the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar, Mladen Pesic, presented the find to the public in November 2022. He explains the extraordinary intact condition of the hull by the fact that it was completely covered by sand and thus protected. The underwater excavations on the ship will be continued this year. Fragments of the wood were sent to France to be examined and to find out more about its origin.
By the way, the ship does not seem to be connected to the coins of Constantine’s sons, which indirectly led to the discovery of the wreck. The archaeologists believe it to be much older and date it to the late 1st / early 2nd century AD, i.e. to the first flourishing period of the port, not the second. This is also supported by another bronze coin that was found inside the shipwreck. It depicts Emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98 to 117 AD.
Here you can access the website of the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology Zadar.
On YouTube, you can also find a reconstruction of the Barbir port based on the first finds with aerial pictures of the area.