Underwater ‘tub’ turns out to be ancient horse

3D image of the horse produced from photographs and elaborated on by BC Sicily
3D image of the horse produced from photographs and elaborated on by BC Sicily

Divers in southern Sicily have recovered the sculpture of a prancing horse, thought to be a long-lost marble fascia ornament from the Temple of Zeus in the ancient city of Agrigento.

The frieze had been lying about 9m down in the Mediterranean Sea, about 300m off the coast at San Leone, a small town near the mouth of the Akragas river. Its presence had been known about for some time, but had been dismissed in an archaeological survey as a ‘tub’ or ‘tank’ of no significance. 

Diver at the site in 2022 (BC Sicily Underwater Group)
Diver at the site in 2022 (BC Sicily Underwater Group)

Sicily, or Sikelia, was a Greek colony between the 8th and 5th centuries BC and a centre of western Mediterranean civilisation. San Leone lies just south of the modern town of Agrigento.

The volunteer members of the BC Sicily Underwater Group said that they had never been convinced that the heavily concreted artefact was merely a discarded modern receptacle. Led by Gaetano Lino, they dived it in October 2022 to obtain a series of photographs, from which they produced a 3D model. 

The team with the recovered artefact, still heavily concreted at this stage (BC Sicily Underwater Group)
The team with the recovered frieze, still heavily concreted (BC Sicily Underwater Group)

This made it clear that the object was indeed a carving, and this was reported to the Superintendency of the Sea. However, it was only after two previous attempts had been defeated by turbulent seas that it was finally able to be lifted for conservation on 2 February.

The operation was carried out by Carabinieri divers in the presence of officials from the Superintendency of the Sea and the BC Sicily Underwater Group.

Horses were an iconic element in artistic representations from the Greek period, and the frieze, which measure 2 x 1.6 x 0.35m, was almost certainly made of Proconnesian marble, says the group. This coarse-grained white stone with blue veins was supplied from the island of Propontis, off what is now Türkiye.

Also on Divernet: Dolphin anchor lifted in Sicily, Deep wreck off Sicily yields jars, Dives uncover ancient wine traders, Ancient warship rams discovered

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