Divers from the Naples Police underwater unit, based in Naples, Italy, have retrieved a substantial piece of obsidian from the remnants of a Neolithic shipwreck, off the coast of the island of Capri.
The artifact, resembling a large book and weighing approximately 17.6 pounds (8 kilograms), was found at a depth of 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 meters) below the surface. Markings on its surface indicate chiseling, suggesting that it served as an obsidian “core,” a tool used to produce sharp-edged flakes for cutting.
The Neolithic-era shipwreck is situated near the famed Blue Grotto on Capri, a sea cave once utilized for private bathing by the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius had a palace on the island, and the cave, now a popular tourist attraction, is off-limits for swimming due to safety concerns arising from waves and tides.
Archaeologists believe this natural glass block was likely part of the cargo carried by a vessel during the Neolithic period, more than 5,000 years ago.
The Naples Police diving team discovered the underwater site earlier this year and officially announced their findings in October. To safeguard the site from looters, the precise location is being kept confidential. This obsidian core is the first item recovered from the shipwreck, and archaeologists anticipate finding more artifacts in the same area.
Obsidian, a dense black glass formed from cooled lava, fractures into pieces with sharp edges, making it valuable for crafting cutting and piercing tools in ancient times. While the specific origin of this obsidian is yet to be determined, deposits of obsidian are known to exist on volcanic islands in the Mediterranean, including Palmarola near Naples and Lipari near Sicily.
According to Live Science, the newfound obsidian block offers valuable information about Neolithic seafaring technology. Maritime archaeologist Sean Kingsley, the editor-in-chief of Wreckwatch magazine, suggests this obsidian block might have been intended for trade or utilized in the creation of ritual items, similar to those discovered in Capri’s Neolithic Grotta delle Felci.
He cites examples like the canoes from the submerged “La Marmotta” site under Lake Bracciano near Rome. These canoes, dating between 5690 and 5250 BCE, exemplify advanced seafaring capabilities, with indications of sails and the potential for long-distance travel in the Mediterranean.
The artifact is currently in storage in Naples and will undergo cleaning, examination, and preservation. The meticulous analysis of the 8-kilogram obsidian core aims to uncover more details about its use, origin, and role in Neolithic trade and rituals.