Underwater archaeology in Croatia (with Secret Dalmatia)

Over a year ago, I was talking to my good friend Mato Ilkić, an archaeologist with Zadar University and authority on antique coins and underwater archaeology, how there is so much to discover and not enough funds. With our economy in gutter, archaeology gets only peanuts… There are excavations of course, but very limited.
It is simply frustrating that there are so many places that still hold important secrets! So, I asked Mato if it was possible that I donate money and then we choose where to dig. He liked the idea and we worked out all the details. All the funds I donated (20 000 Kn) went to University of Zadar which got all the necessary permits. Mato Ilkić Ph.D, Martina Čelhar Ph.D, Dario Vujević Ph.D, Mate Parica Ph.D, Marko Meštrov and Maja Kaleb teamed up for this interesting expedition. All great folks!

There are dozens of locations that I would love to see excavated but Mato suggested that the money goes to a week long underwater exploration and sondage of a known pre-historic settlement near Ričul. Right by my home town of Turanj. I agreed and, almost a year later, the crew got together and it was agreed that they start excavating on one of the most promising spots.

Location of the excavation
Aerial shot of Ričul, heart shaped Galešnjak, Tukljača cemetery near Turanj and “x” marks the location of the excavation.

One can clearly see the underwater structures on the aerial shots and, it is known from the records, that the region was part of the village of Tukljaca. The village was abandoned and slowly sunken underwater during the Ottoman–Venetian War (1570–1573). All that remains are some walls that can still be seen outside the cemetery on the mainland… Back in the 70s, some archaeological reconnaissance has also been done but no sondage and actual underwater excavating have been done. Until now.

Getting ready to dive
Getting ready to dive

I have also provided a small boat to carry the water dredge and all the necessary equipment. First, the archaeologists decided on where to dig (pump out the sand) and the area was  only 4 square meters. They assumed that they would test few spots and get some results. But, by the end of day one, they realized that the location was far richer in finds then they could have ever dreamed of! Thousands of pieces of broken pottery, bone tools, wooden tools… have been found. We decided to leave the finds and equipment in my front yard where they filled the big containers with fresh water to start the process of desalinization.

Samples of finds: pottery, bone tools...
Samples of finds: pottery, bone tools…

Already, the ancient wooden pylons started emerging. I helped prepare one for C14 analysis so we will have the exact dating in few weeks. The archaeologists are assuming that they were forming the harbor of the ancient Liburnian settlement and that all the finds are about 3000 years old. We will know exactly soon! The sheer number of pylons shows the significance of the place as it obviously required a  serious number of workers to get the work done. The wood is likely to be holm oak (crnika) and it is extremely hard!

Piece of ancient pillar that will undergo C-14 analysis.
Piece of ancient pillar that will undergo C-14 analysis.

Although the sea is shallow (2,5 – 3 meters) the current is fairly strong and made the working underwater challenging at times. But the wealth of artifacts and interesting structure being discovered, made everything much easier. Another value of this location is that no Roman remains (or any later) have been found so far and it looks like the village was abandoned before the Roman conquest (like many other places in the region)

Broken handle of ancient pot
Broken handle of ancient pot
Clearing sand between the pillars
Clearing sand between the pillars
In action
In action

So people ask me why I gave money to something like this. Because I like history, wanted to be an archaeologist when I was younger and I just like a good, true mystery. Nothing beats a huge underwater settlement from Bronze Age! And it is always good to give back to the community. Very proud that I can be the first local business that actually financed an archaeological expedition!

We are already making plans for new donations and projects in 2015! Also, happy to see if anyone else wants to join in giving  funds to something like this. I plan to support various cultural projects around Croatia and, as one can see, a small donation can lead to a big and important discovery. And there are PLENTY of those all over our beautiful country!


There is also a unique opportunity to join these exciting excavations for all Secret Dalmatia clients!


Travel in Croatia



  1. What a fabulous adventure….congratulations! I think you should set up an online way for readers of your blog and ohers who find it online to send in their contributions to continue this work. Another way to ensure it continues is to contact foreign universities who may wish to send student/professor led teams, often raising their own funds. Great work!

  2. Thank you!

  3. balancana says:

    Bravo Alan…I am proud of you…

  4. Janos B. says:

    Alan, I mentioned the story to a archeologist friend here in Hungary knowing that he does non-destructive ground-penetrating radar jobs at excavations. While this technology might not work in maritime archaeology, he mentioned three methods that are used for underwater research: 1) laser beam scanning (either blue or green, can’t remember) – used by Austrian fellows here in the region. 2) magnetometer 3) sonar scanners. Have you considered these for the project?

  5. What a fabulous adventure! It’s so exciting, my husband would love this. I am going to send this to him now. If you’d like to share this story (and call for donations) on our blog, please do let me know. We’d love to share the great news and help you raise more funds.

  6. @ Balancana – Fala prijatelju!

    @ Janos
    We are considering several approaches but will have to sit down after the season as we are quite busy at the moment. The idea is to actually excavate/reveal the site till the wooden pylons so they are staying visible for the purpose of mapping the size of the site. Maybe we can consider those “less intrusive” ways of research but this can be a great underwater archaeology park some day…

  7. Thank you! I will get in touch!

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