Albania promotes its underwater archaeology, for tourism

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania is promoting the archaeological finds in the waters off its southwest coast to raise public interest and to attract attention of decision-makers who can help preserve the discoveries.

The Albanian National Coastline Agency opened an exhibit Monday of 30 photographs showing underwater finds of potential archaeological significance from the last decade.

The nonprofit RPM Nautical Foundation has mapped about one-third of Albania's coast so far, from Saranda, near Greece's Corfu island, to Vlora. National coastline agency head Auron Tare says the scan found 38 shipwrecks in the Ionian Sea, six of them more than 2,000 year old.

Tare said the ships and other objects "show ancient Illyria (Albania's predecessor) was a commercial pass rather than a pirates' place," Tare said.

He says the archaeological wealth of Albania's 220-mile coastline needs more legal protections and better care to make it a popular tourist destination. The country does not have a scuba diving industry, but that could change if the findings are promoted properly, Tare said.

"We have a lot of such archaeological underwater heritage but, so far, we have not known how to keep, preserve and use them," he said.

The exhibition includes photos of amphorae — two-handled storage pots and jars used for wine or oil in ancient Greece — and other items encrusted with tiny shells.

The wreckage from ships are thought to represent a much longer time period, from the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire during World War I, to British or Italian navy vessels from World War II.

During the communist regime that ruled Albania until 1990, the army's control of the coastline deterred smugglers who might have been tempted to disturb submerged artifacts. Many items since have been stolen.

The nautical archaeology department at the Albanian Institute of Archaeology started collaborating 10 years ago with the RPM Nautical Foundation, which is based in Key West, Florida, to scan the ocean floor and remaining relics.

Neritan Ceka, a veteran archaeologist involved in the maritime discoveries, said the foundation's research vessel discovered "a wealth of untouched finds."

"That great archaeological wealth should be shown to the local population to preserve it and worldwide due to its research importance," Ceka said.