August 24, 2012

Neolithic ship and obsidian cargo found near Naples

A sunken vessel has been discovered off the island of Capri (Campania, Italy), not far from Naples. The ship, whose details are unknown to me at the time of writing it, was tentatively dated to at least c. 5000 years ago, in the Neolithic (or earliest Chalcolithic) period. It carried a load of obsidian, a prime quality material for tools and weapons (which is said to produce sharper edges than modern surgical scalpels).

Sadly, I could not find much information on this most interesting discovery. I wonder if the obsidian was extracted from the Campi Flegrei at Naples Bay and who may have been demanding such a large cargo?

Archaeological map of Capri: red: Neolithic, yellow: Chalcolithic, other: later periods
(CC by Morn)

Sources: ANSA, Pileta.


  1. In the fantasy prehistory of George RR Martin, (now undergoing TV adaptation as the series "Game of Thrones") obsidian blades could kill the dreaded supernatural foes of humanity called White Walkers. They were contemporary with mammoths, aurochs, and dire wolves. But perhaps the White Walkers were still hanging on in the Italian Alps as late as the neolithic, which would create a great demand for obsidian. (wink)

    1. As person interested in anthropology more than in Eurocentric fantasy, I am, if anything, more interested in stuff like Aztec legends, by which Tezcatlipoca, god of death and the North, "the smoking mirror" (mirrors were made of obsidian also), "the enemy of both sides", the jaguar, was also known as "the obsidian knife", which was used ritually to slay the human sacrifices (usually war prisoners).

  2. I'm honestly more interested in the ship than the cargo.

    We know quite a bit about late Bronze Age sea transportation technology, but the further back you go, especially away from well documented areas like Mesopotamia and Egypt, the fuzzier our picture gets.

    We have much more data on how obsidian tools were used, by whom and where from archaeological digs that are conveniently on land, than we do about ancient ships which tend to be found in hard to get places like sea floors and made out of materials that aren't easy to preserve. Our knowledge of boating technology in the Northern Mediterranean ca. 3000 BCE is very thin.

    How big was it? How much cargo did it carry and how many crew did it probably require? Did it use sails or oars or both? Does the design show an affiliation to any known historical maritime culture or does it have unique features? Was it an open boat, or did it have more or more enclosed layers below decks?

    1. I'm also more interested in the ship, although obsidian is also interesting in itself (not much was traded in Europe, unlike in West Asia - at least I have never read about very ancient obsidian tools in Europe before).

      I have some papers in Spanish language from 2011 awaiting to become a blog entry. I'm quite lazy, so never gathered the energies to write them. Also a bit of fear of Terry initiating endless debates on the matter scares me. But there are known boats from that period, being, if my memory is correct, log boats with extensions.

      I infer from the entry that the boat was just discovered these weeks and that research is pending. We'll probably hear more about this boat in due time.

  3. "Also a bit of fear of Terry initiating endless debates on the matter scares me".

    I have no problem with Neolithic voyaging around the Mediterranean. The evidence for it is overwhelming.

    "being, if my memory is correct, log boats with extensions".

    No problem with dugout canoes in the Mediterranean as recent as that either.

    1. I have a problem with you having an (unfounded) opinion on everything. It tires me but you seem oblivious and come once and again. I may even quit blogging altogether because of people like you.


Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. Personal attacks, manipulation and trolling are also very much unwelcome here.The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Preliminary comment moderation is... ON (your comment may take some time, maybe days or weeks to appear).