Underwater Archaeology To Be Taken Over By Robotic Submarines

January 5, 2017 | Matt

Deep-water research is not only very expensive, it’s also potentially dangerous. New developments in technology are aiding the endeavor, though. There are already plans to delegate underwater archaeology duties to robotic submarines. Pretty soon, drone subs will be doing the heavy lifting in documenting underwater ruins in the Mediterranean.

Thousands of years ago, the ancient city of Atlit-Yam was submerged in the ocean due to an environmental disaster, likely a tsunami. We’ve learned a lot about the city in our investigations so far, but research has been hampered with the physical demands of the site. Other underwater cities are also waiting for us to learn their secrets.

There is a push in the archaeological community to fund submarine research expeditions to Atlit-Yam and other sunken ruins. The program is being called ‘Archaeosub,’ and will be led by a team of researchers from Italy. One of the principal researchers, Benedetto Allotta of the University of Florence, believes that there are probably many as-yet-undiscovered underwater cities in the Mediterranean. It’s a prospect that makes any archaeologist’s mouth water.

Archaeosub is working to build a small fleet of advanced underwater vehicles (AUV’s) to explore the depths. The subs will be driven via remote. This cuts down not only on risk to human pilots, but also cost. The relatively inexpensive drone subs are more nimble than the larger research vessels that can support human operators.


The robots are planned to work in harmony with one another, aided by networks of underwater Wi-Fi transmitters that will allow them to communicate amongst themselves, and with the surface.

Archaeosub trialed three prototype AUV’s recently in Sicilian waters. They were sent down to take a look at a well-documented shipwreck at Marzamemi. The ship, colloquially known as the “church wreck,” is a Roman ship that sunk in the 500’s while carrying a load of marble. The AUV’s were able to collect enough data on the wreck to create an entire virtual reconstruction of the ship and the area surrounding it.

The researchers are hoping to develop enough Wi-Fi capability for the AUV’s that they will operate in a proposed “internet of underwater things.” The AUV’s will be able to trade data with boats as well as research stations on land. The Wi-Fi tech we’re used to works poorly or not at all sub-surface. New technologies will have to be developed, using acoustics, GPS and maybe even light. The AUV’s may also use a relay bot to communicate with the surface via satellite.

Archaeosub has its sights set on a 2,000-year-old shipwreck in Tuscany’s Gulf of Baratti. The ship is known to carry a diverse collection of medical implements, and hopefully the AUV’s are up to the task of fully documenting the wreck for science.

Share This Story On Facebook