BBC reports on the MUSAS monitoring project in Baiae submerged archeological site

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“I wasn’t sure what seemed more thrilling: the chance to finally see the underwater mosaics and ruins I’d heard so much about, or to try my hand at a technology that allowed divers to communicate like dolphins”. This is how journalist Amanda Ruggeri spoke about her visit to Baiae from the columns of the BBC travel series “Future of the Past” a few days ago.

In spite of the well-known difficulties related to the pandemic, the important UK broadcasting network managed to follow us in the starting operations for the monitoring of this unique submerged archaeological site in the world that is Baia, a few steps from Naples. The activities are led by MUSAS project, launched by the Central Institute for Conservation and Restoration of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage.

The artefacts that stands below the sea, including statues and precious floors that make up the largest collection of underwater Roman mosaics the world, are at risk, due to the action of marine organisms such as bacteria, bivalves, sponges.

All this menace requires continuous monitoring to be able to intervene better and in an increasingly timely manner to contrast it.

But, as Ruggeri explains very well in her article on, “when it comes to an underwater site, a major challenge is communication. The various networks we rely on above ground – data, wifi, radio – aren’t effective in water. Wifi requires laying cables and penetrates only a couple of centimetres. Wireless optical is better but can cover only a few metres of range”. Moreover, she says, without precise GPS, it’s also difficult for underwater archaeologists to pinpoint the site’s artifacts precise location: “When you come back a day later, the sands may have shifted, the sea floor changed. How can you be sure you’ll find it again?”. Then, she ends, “the answer to all of this, scientists have found, is to try to mimic how marine mammals communicate: through sound waves”. Acoustic communication is in fact at the basis of Wsense underwater communication systems.

“Many people told us continuously, ‘You will not make it’,” said WSENSE R&D Director Chiara Petrioli to BBC’s Amanda Ruggeri”, “We are proving them wrong”.

To say it with Ruggeri’s words, “What was not possible, is now possible”, as many will be the technical improvements available to underwater archaeology thanks to these innovative underwater communication technologies. This will begin materially with the permanent installation of the all the sensors starting in August 2020.

Thanks to the interest of important networks such as BBC, more and more people around the world will be able to stay up to date on this feat of research and innovation in the Italian and global cultural sector.

You can read the whole article by Amanda Ruggeri, with the interviews with MUSAS project leader Barbara Davidde and Chiara Petrioli, Wsense R&D Director on “Baiae: A Roman settlement at the bottom of the sea”

You can also watch a short video of the report made by Amanda Ruggeri of BBC, whose full 30 minutes version is airing on BBC World News on December 2020:

Baiae BBC World News video report

(Published on September 1, 2020, Updated on December 21, 2020)