Archaeologists working in the Sicilian Channel between Tunisia and Sicily have discovered a submerged 40-foot-long (8-meter) limestone monolith carved by Stone Age humans some 10,000 years ago.
Back then, the Sicilian Channel would have featured an archipelago of several islands separated by stretches of extremely shallow sea. Living on these islands were Mesolithic humans who were forced away from the region some 9,350 years ago—give-or-take 200 years—when water levels began to rise in the wake of the Last Glacial Maximum.
Sea level changes forced these Stone Age humans to retreat from the island (credit: Lodolo et al. 2015.)
Recently, archaeologists surveyed one of these submerged features—the Pantelleria Vecchia Bank (PVB)—located about 37 miles (60 km) south of Sicily. Using a hull-mounted multi-beam sonar system, the archaeologists detected a human-made, 40-foot-long (8 meters) monolith resting on the seafloor at a depth of 130 feet (40 meters). The structure, now broken into two pieces, was chopped out from a nearby rocky outcrop. Details of the study, authored by Emanuele Lodolo from the National Institute of Oceanography and Zvi Ben-Avraham from Tel Aviv University, can be found in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.
“From the data we have here presented and analyzed, it can be inferred that the monolith discovered in the PVB is not a natural feature, but man-made,” write the authors, while providing the following evidence:
- the monolith has a rather regular shape;
- the monolith has three regular holes of similar diameter: one that crosses it completely on its top, and another two at two sides of the monolith; there are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements;
- the monolith is made from stone other than those which constitute all the neighboring outcrops, and is quite isolated with respect to them; and
- the lithology and age of the rock that makes up the monolith are similar to those that make up the blocks of the rectilinear ridge closing the embayment.
The presence of the monolith, say the researchers, is suggestive of extensive human activity in the region:
It was cut and extracted as a single stone from the outer rectilinear ridge situated about 300 m [984 feet] to the south, and then transported and possibly erected. From the size of the monolith, we may presume that it weights about 15 t [30,000 pounds]. The information so far available does not allow us however to formulate hypotheses about the specific function of this monolith. It is however reasonable to assume that the PVB represented an important line of communication with the interior, because located midway between Sicily and Tunisia.
In addition to providing evidence of human habitation in the region, the monolith shows just how sophisticated these early humans must have been. To manufacture, move, and erect a structure of this weight and size would have required tremendous know-how and cooperation.
“The discovery of the submerged site in the Sicilian Channel may significantly expand our knowledge of the earliest civilizations in the Mediterranean basin and our views on technological innovation and development achieved by the Mesolithic inhabitants,” write the researchers. “The monolith found, made of a single, large block, required a cutting, extraction, transportation and installation, which undoubtedly reveals important technical skills and great engineering.”
Consequently, the notion that early Mediterranean peoples lacked the knowledge, skill, and technology to exploit marine resources or make sea crossings should be abandoned, conclude the researchers.
Read the entire study at Journal of Archaeological Sciences: “A submerged monolith in the Sicilian Channel (central Mediterranean Sea): Evidence for Mesolithic human activity”.
Contact the author at email@example.com and @dvorsky. Top image by Lodolo et al. 2015