Ancient artifacts carved from volcanic glass have been found off the idyllic coast of Italy. It's been speculated that these stunning relics fell to the seafloor amidst a shipwreck during the Stone Age, between 8,000 to 5,000 years ago, which makes the objects unbelievably old for their style and quality.
The discovery was recently made near the White Grotto of Capri, a beautiful island in the Gulf of Naples peppered with luxury villas, lemon groves, and fancy shops. This cavern’s location isn’t too far from the Blue Grotto, a famous cave that has incredibly blue waters thanks to sunlight beaming through a hidden underwater opening.
The Naples Police Department and marine archeologists teamed up to recover the objects in late November 2023 and have since come to realize the artifacts are strewn across a much much larger area of seafloor than previously thought.
One of the most significant finds was an object made from obsidian, a shiny black volcanic glass formed when lava is cooled rapidly. With a weight of 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds), it measures around 28 x 20 x 15 centimeters (11 x 8 x 6 inches).
Most significantly, cut marks and carvings on the obsidian object provide solid evidence that it was modified by human hands. What exactly the object was, however, is unclear.
It was found at a depth of 30 to 40 meters (98 to 132 feet) below the surface. It’s uncertain how such a valuable object ended up here, but the team believes it was likely being transported as cargo by a Neolithic-era ship.
With further work, they hope to uncover the shipwreck of this ancient vessel – although there’s no promise such remains even exist.
"It is necessary to carry out an extensive instrumental survey of the seabed to verify the possible presence of the hull or other cargo material,” Mariano Nuzzo, the superintendent of archaeology, fine arts, and landscape for the Naples metropolitan area, said in a statement.
If the researchers were to locate the remains of a Neolithic ship here, experts say it would prove to be a “mind-blowing” discovery.
"The remains of a Neolithic hull in Mediterranean waters have never been found to date. There are cases of Neolithic boats found on the European mainland or in freshwater, lakes, and rivers. But the Mediterranean Sea has a pleasant temperature and salinity for the wood-eating mollusk, Teredo navalis. Thus, wooden ships of all ages, when they sink in the Mediterranean, are prey for these mollusks," Sandro Barucci, a researcher who has written books on ancient seafaring, told Newsweek.
“At Capri, if the boat had sunk quickly into the sand and remained protected, it would perhaps be possible to find some wooden parts, especially if it were a dugout canoe – i.e. made from a single large hollowed-out tree trunk. But it would truly be a very rare event, indeed unique,” he added.
Owing to its hard and brittle properties, obsidian was often used to create tools with sharp edges, like knives, axes, and arrowheads. It was widely traded across the Mediterranean and Near East during the Neolithic period.
While the discovery of obsidian from this time is pretty remarkable, it’s not too surprising that volcanic glass was found here along the Mediterranean coast. Mount Vesuvius looms over the Gulf of Naples, a highly volcanic patch of Europe that’s no stranger to devastating eruptions.
Its most infamous eruption occurred in 79 CE when Vesuvius spewed a flurry of searing hot ash and volcanic rocks over the city of Pompeii and Herculaneum, killing thousands of Romans in a particularly unpleasant fashion.