Archaeologists have discovered a mysterious Stonehenge-style
monolith in the deep sea off the coast of Sicily, shedding new light on
the earliest civilizations in the Mediterranean basin.
Broken in two parts, the 3.2-foot-long monolith has a rather
regular shape and features three holes of similar diameter. One, which
can be found at its end, crosses it completely from part to part, the
others appear at two sides of the massive stone.
Such features leave no doubt that the monolith was man-made some 10,000 years ago.
"There are no reasonable known natural processes that may
produce these elements,” Zvi Ben-Avraham, from the Department of Earth
Sciences at Tel Aviv University, and Emanuele Lodolo, from the National
Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, Italy,
wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The monolith was found at a depth of 131 feet, on what was once
an island in the Sicilian Channel. Called Pantelleria Vecchia Bank, the
island was located some 24 miles north of the volcanic island of
Pantelleria and was submerged during a massive flood about 9,500 years
Indeed, the entire geography of the Mediterranean Basin was
radically altered by the increase in sea level following the Last
"The Sicilian Channel is one of the shallow shelves of the
central Mediterranean region where the consequences of changing
sea-level were most dramatic and intense,” the researchers wrote.
During the Last Glacial Maximum, the Adventure Plateau — the
shallowest, north-western sector of the Sicilian Channel — was connected
to Sicily, forming a broad peninsula that was separated from the North
African coastline by about 30 miles.
"The gradual increase of the sea level caused the flooding of
most of the peninsula, with the exception of some morphological highs
that, until at least the Early Holocene, formed an archipelago of
several islands separated by stretches of extremely shallow sea,” the
One of those islands was the Pantelleria Vecchia Bank, where
the massive monolith was found and where an ancient civilization
thrived. These ancient people possibly colonized and settled the various
islands of the archipelago, attracted by a suitable climate and a
geographical position between Europe and Africa.
Everything ended about 9,500 years ago, when, according to the
post-glacial curve of sea-level change for the Italian coasts, seawater
submerged Pantelleria Vecchia Bank.
"This discovery reveals the technological innovation and
development achieved by the Mesolithic inhabitants in the Sicilian
Channel region,” Lodolo told Discovery News.
He noted that the monolith, which weights about 15 tons, was
made of a single, large block that required cutting, extraction,
transportation and installation.
"Such an effort undoubtedly reveals important technical skills and great engineering,” Lodolo said.
It is not known what the monolith’s fuction was or whether it was part of a large complex.
"Most likely the structure was functional to the settlement.
These people were used to fishing and trading with the neighboring
islands,” Lodolo said.
"It could have been some sort of a lighthouse or an anchoring system, for example,” he added.
The most famous archaeological discovery of Mesolithic age is
the monumental temple complex of Göbekli Tepe, in south-eastern Turkey.
Excavated by a German team in the 1960s, the site has been dated to
about 11,600 years ago and is believed to have been a religious center
or sanctuary serving a well-organized settlement.
"Almost everything that we do know about prehistoric cultures
derives from settlements that are now on land. On the contrary, an
extensive archaeological record of early settlings lies on the sea-floor
of our continental shelves,” Lodolo said.
"If we want to trace the origins of civilization in the
Mediterranean region, we must focus on the now-submerged shelf areas,”
Images: A: Full view of the monolith; B: monolithic’s end with the hole; C: monolithic’s hole. Credit: Emanuele Lodolo