Croatia’s Underwater Archeological Discoveries Have Tourism Potential

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Facebook: International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar
New underwater discoveries off the coast of Pag could offer the island a chance to finally shift to new forms of family-oriented tourism.
New underwater discoveries off the coast of Pag could offer the island a chance to finally shift to new forms of family-oriented tourism.

June 8, 2020 — Ancient underwater vessels and sites recently unearthed off the coast of Pag could become another draw for travelers.

Firefighters taking scuba diving lessons chanced upon the remains of a ship and cargo dating back to Roman antiquity in the seabed not far from Novalja on the island of Pag.

It’s the latest in a seemingly endless train of underwater discoveries, and some see an opportunity for a niche form of tourism.

The group stumbled upon the 2,000-plus-year-old remains accidentally. Local divers reportedly spent years ignoring the pile, which appeared to be random detritus at the bottom of the sea.

The firefighters of JVP Čakovec and Vedran Dorušić, a diver and underwater archaeologist who actually recognized the pile of tile-like squares for what it actually is: building materials dating back to the Roman era. 

The sunken ship’s cargo appears to be roof covering — the ancient equivalent of terracotta tiles or shingles. 

Dorušić assumes that it was a smaller ship up to 15 meters, taking its cargo to a construction site needing a roof. Given that the site is on the stormy side of the island, there are few guesses as to why it sank.

Every year, as part of their annual training program, the employees of JVP Čakovec come to dive in Stara Novalja on Pag, choosing the Letavica archeological site. After their morning briefing on archeological finds and norms, the group discovered a kitchen utensil, which unveiled clues of a ship’s orientation and bearing.

The firefighters then came back with photos of a heap of what appeared to be fresh construction waste on the seabed. Dorušić scanned the photos and saw similarities to a shipwreck on the island of Molat. A check with colleagues confirmed his suspicions.

He called the Conservation Office in Gospić, which is in charge of Novalja. They were not aware of this site. No one ever reported it to them.

Dorušić turned his class of diving firefighters into ad hoc archeologists.

“We did everything that can be done non-invasively on the site, but we must not touch it without permission,” he said, adding it is archaeologists’ and conservators’ turn to take over and protect the site.

“What I see in this is the tourist potential,” Dorušić told Zadarski List, claiming it could help address the dearth of tourists caused by the coronavirus and poor planning.

“They have been working for years to change the image of the party destination and want to switch to family tourism,” he added. “Now is the opportunity to use this to develop family tourism.”

It may also help bypass a quirk in archeological norms which bans continued dives around newly-discovered sites.

“It is terrible for us divers who report such findings because our effort and work is ‘rewarded’ with a ban,” Dorušić said. 

The University of Zadar has started a project of technical protection of the site with cameras. As for the age of the ship, he explains that it is an ancient ship, but he cannot say the exact century, although he told us that Novalja was very developed in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Archeologists typically find seals on the materials found at underwater sites, which help date them.

“It is interesting that in Zadar we have the Zadar Archaeological Museum, which is the only museum with an underwater department, the University of Zadar which is extremely active in underwater archeology and the International Center for Underwater Archeology which is connected with various foreign institutions,” Dorušić concluded. 

All this creates a potential hub for underwater exploration and tourism, the diver concluded.


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