Manned submarines in Archaeological research

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Subsea Explorers Ian Koblick and Craig Mullen reflect on a successful expedition during the summer of 2015 using the state-of-the-art C-Explorer 3 submarine on Roman era shipwrecks.

Just a few months back we were face to face with hidden cultural artefacts of the distant past. Unobserved for centuries and hidden as deep as 200 meters below the surface were three shipwrecks containing hundreds of amphorae. We witnessed a historical sight, as we learned more about these ships and their cargoes of olive oil, wine and garum that never reached port. It was a breath-taking moment when the first amphora appeared out of the shimmering darkness and into the light beams of the submersible.

The stories of these Roman era shipwrecks that the expedition visited go back over 2,000 years. But only during expeditions in 2009 and 2010 were the wrecks identified from extensive side-scan sonar surveys conducted by the AURORA Trust. Our dives in 2015 were intended to further advance the world’s understanding of our collective marine cultural heritage. This is what motivated us to explore these deep shipwrecks up close using state of the art submersibles. A joint expedition between U-Boat Worx, AURORA Trust Foundation and the Superintendent of the Seas of Sicily allowed us to explore these wrecks in the safety and comfort of a three person submarine.

“Thanks to the submersible and skilled pilot of U-Boat Worx we were able to uncover new secrets from depths that were impossible to reach before.” stated Ian Koblick, co-founder of the AURORA Trust Foundation. “Despite the demanding dive schedule, weather and unchartered depths, we successfully achieved our objective of mapping each shipwreck and surrounding areas.” The C-Explorer 3, the submarine used during this operation, was equipped with cameras to take both video and digital images of each of these ancient wreck sites. Hundreds of high-resolution images were recorded of each of the shipwrecks as the submersible was guided with precision over the wrecks. After each dive the digital images were processed onsite, utilizing special software, into detailed 2D and 3D photo mosaics. These were provided to the Italian authorities that accompanied the expedition.

“The precision and the manoeuvrability of the C-Explorer 3 were of key importance for our photo mosaics. The C-Explorer 3 had no downtime that impacted our expedition. It was 100 per cent reliable. This meant we could concentrate on exploring the subsea world without limitation and achieved all our expedition objectives,” stated Craig Mullen, co-founder of Aurora Trust Foundation.

Those who joined us had the unique experience of being one of the few ever to see these remains of our cultural heritage past. Next year U-Boat Worx will again join forces with the AURORA Trust Foundation and Italian cultural heritage authorities to search for new shipwrecks of the Roman and Greek eras. The 2016 expedition will be off the coast of Napoli, Italy. Sponsor/Citizen Scientists of AURORA will be able to participate in the expedition. Like our explorers last year you will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

More information will follow soon. If you are interested in joining next year’s expedition, please make your interest known by emailing or check out


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