The Malta Airport Foundation on Wednesday announced that it is supporting Heritage Malta’s pioneering work to declare an underwater site the world’s first deep-water archaeological park.
First discovered in 1993 just off Xlendi Bay in Gozo, the site lies at 105 metres below sea level and is composed of an expanse of Punic archaeological material spread across 67,000 m2. The Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit within Heritage Malta is researching what could have led to the formation of this unique site, as it gradually documents the area and the artefacts found here through innovative methods which have not been used elsewhere.
While deep-water wrecks are not uncommon attractions, the site’s unparalleled value stems from the combination of thousands of ancient artefacts, such as amphorae and urns, dating back around 2,300 years and natural heritage in the form of rocky outcrops formed by extinct coral reefs.
“It is an honour for the Malta Airport Foundation to contribute to such an important undertaking, which will doubtlessly raise the visibility of the Maltese Islands among technical divers and international researchers. The Foundation also hopes to support Heritage Malta in bringing this project closer to people who are neither divers nor researchers but are keen to learn more about the Maltese Islands’ history through our underwater cultural heritage,” said the Malta Airport Foundation Chairman Josef Formosa Gauci.
Heritage Malta’s Chief Executive Officer, Noel Zammit, remarked that the exciting initiative of a deep-water archaeological park attests yet again the sound position of the national agency for cultural heritage at the forefront of its sector. He reiterated Heritage Malta’s commitment towards the continued support of this venture and similar ones that may ensue in future, as through such endeavours our national heritage is enriched and made accessible – both physically and virtually – for study and enjoyment.
The underwater site is currently being mapped and documented by Heritage Malta’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit, with the support of the University of Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. The artefacts found at this site are being preserved under water, in line with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage to which Malta is a signatory. While there are no plans to raise these objects from the seabed, the location of the artefacts, their type and condition are being entered in a geodatabase, which will have different levels of access.
The Xlendi deep-water marine park will also be made accessible to the public through 360-degree videos, images and 3D models uploaded on the Underwater Malta website, which is a virtual museum of the islands’ underwater archaeological sites. Moreover, the Xlendi coastal watch tower, close to which the Xlendi marine park is located, will house a permanent exhibition, which is set to open its doors to the public in 2023.