National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Alba Mazza

Affiliation: U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Henry M. Jackson Foundation (CTR)

Alba Mazza is an underwater archaeologist with more than 18 years of fieldwork experience in the Mediterranean. She obtained her Ph.D. in 2017 from the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on submerged settlements and human-environment interaction in the coastal zone. Her work also focuses on prehistoric seafaring and commercial navigation during the Classical Antiquity in Sicily – Italy. Alba currently works as Senior Archaeologist at the Partnership and Innovation Underwater team of the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Henry M. Jackson Foundation (CTR). Dr. Alba Mazza is the AIA McCann/Taggart Lecturer for 2021/2022


Submerged cities and ancient shorelines are two of the most intriguing yet complex topics of investigation in the field of maritime archaeology. Sicily, the largest island of the Mediterranean Sea and one of the richest archaeological regions, offers the ideal setting to help us better understand lost landscapes. Geomorphological changes and environmental dynamics played a fundamental role in shaping the coastal landscape of the island. This, in conjunction with the uninterrupted inhabitation of the majority of the coast since prehistory makes Sicily one of the most interesting regions of the Mediterranean Basin for submerged landscapes research.

This lecture aims to describe such a long-term human-environment interaction in some of the most important coastal settlements of the island: Lipari, Selinunte and Syracuse. Coastal changes and sea level rise significantly impacted how people lived in those communities. A large variety of archaeological evidence has been analyzed, including but not limited to port infrastructures, religious buildings and necropolises. Results indicates that very different approaches were taken by the inhabitants of Sicily in order to cope with environmental hazards. Thanks to this research it has been possible to better understand what were the components of decision-making mechanisms in urban planning as well as the consequences of a poor understanding of the landscape and its management needs. Investigating submerged cities and ancient shorelines of Sicily informed us not only of the island’s lost landscape, but also of future environmental challenges and hazards. Within this context, maritime archaeological research plays a fundamental role in advancing landscape management and helping coastal communities learning from the past.

Deepwater archaeological investigation, automated target detection and site characterization of submerged sites, and in-field bioinformatic applications are among the current technological challenges of today’s underwater archaeology. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), whose mission is to search for, recover and identify remains of missing personnel from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, Gulf Wars, and other recent conflicts, developed a multi-year, multi-objective underwater innovation study aimed at testing and evaluating these emerging technologies, techniques and procedures. This unique cooperative project involves the participation of several universities and research institutes across the globe with a combination of cross-disciplinary expertise and skillsets. DPAA and supporting partners plan to work cooperatively on the three interrelated innovation tasks implemented in several testbed locations across Europe and the Pacific Region.

This talk focuses on one of the three innovation tasks: bioinformatic applications, specifically testing the efficacy of environmental DNA (e-DNA) sampling as a cutting-edge archaeological investigative tool for in-field detection of localized presence of human remains. A WWII submerged aircraft site (B17) located at -72m of depth off Palermo, north of Sicily, Italy, serves as one of the testbed locations. Sediment samples will be collected for field e-DNA sampling, sequencing, and analysis. Systematic underwater archaeological excavation shall be performed by technical divers following the e-DNA testing. Methods, challenges and preliminary results of the investigation will be discussed in this presentation, as well as directions for implementation and development.

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