Part of the harbour at Marsaxlokk, which has a strong connection with the multi-period site at Tas-Silg, has been mapped for the first time.

Four students from the MA Maritime Archaeology and History programme at Bristol University in the UK, under the direction of maritime archaeologist Timmy Gambin, have spent three weeks carrying out this task. The harbour was well known in Phoenician, Punic and Roman times.

On the western side of the bay, in an area just overlooking the sea, Sir Temi Zammit had excavated the site of a Roman villa in 1932, Dr Gambin said. An example of more recent use of the bay dates to the early modern period. Dr Gambin pointed out that "the Turkish navy had anchored at Marsaxlokk during the Great Siege of 1565 before they started their attack on Fort St Elmo".

Over the years, the effects of the wind and the sea have eroded the area of the bay being surveyed, exposing a number of graves that were later excavated in the 1990s by Nathaniel Cutajar. On the basis of the scientific analysis of these finds, Mr Cutajar and John Sammut Tagliaferro had concluded that these graves were probably linked to the Great Siege.

The field school directed by Dr Gambin with the assistance of Elaine Azzopardi consisted of a topographic and surface study of the bay. All aspects of the survey were discussed and outlined with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. Various records were taken of the survey including notes, drawings and photographs. The team then carried out a detailed study of the seabed over the three-week period to create a map of the bottom.

This they did with the help of Subacqua Supplies of Gzira who were part sponsors of the project. Each week was split up in five days underwater, one day on site visit and one day off. The evenings were taken up by lectures by various local researchers.

Heritage Malta gave a helping hand by making their libraries available to the students while the Marsaxlokk local council allowed the participants to use their premises. Toni, a local resident, kept the team supplied with copious amounts of coffee!

"Such visits enable us to do more research in this field because such work requires financial backing. Furthermore, the students will be passing on a copy of their dissertations which will help others in their studies," Dr Gambin said.

One of the students, Texan Dan Hudson, said he is interested mainly in the type of cannon that the Order of the Knights of St John used on their vessels.

Philip Cooper, who visited Malta some 30 years ago, said he could barely recognise anywhere he had been. His current interest lies in HMS Melita, the only sloop of its kind built at the dockyard in Malta and about which scant documentation is available.  The sloop had a wooden and steel hull and was steam powered.

Claire Cogar's focus is on the Byzantine and Arab periods and how these are represented in local museums.

The fourth student, Catherine Rodnell, was busy measuring part of the seabed when these interviews were done.

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