Thanks to their geographical position, the Aeolian Islands have had a remarkable role since prehistoric times in the trade routes of the Mediterranean from East to West, through the Strait of Messina, and the Tyrrhenian Sea area.
The ships that frequented these seas in ancient times connected the Italian peninsula and the Greek world to Sicily, Spain and Africa. Loaded with pottery and amphorae, they transported wine, oil and grain. The Aeolian islands were favourable stopping points, often to stockpile and exchange local resources, such as sulphur and alum from Vulcano, pumice from Lipari and garum from Salina.
The seabed of the Aeolian Islands is an underwater graveyard for ships. Most of the Aeolian wrecks, around twenty of which have been identified, belonged to ships that did not have the Aeolian Islands as a stopover or destination.
These ships would have been surprised to chance upon the islands, and in an attempt to seek shelter, would have broken against the rocks just surfacing in the shallows of Capo Graziano in Filicudi, Capistello and Bagno in Lipari, and the Formiche group of rocks in Panarea. The wrecks cover a very long period from the beginning of the Bronze Age, i.e. from 2000 BC to the 17th century AD.
In the Museum’s underwater archaeology section it is possible to admire the amphorae and pottery produced in Campania, taken from the wreck of the Capistello shallows in Lipari from the 4th century BC, found at great depths of 60 to 90 metres, even up to 120 metres.
Some of the amphorae still had cork stoppers and bore stamps with Greek names.
Among the wrecks discovered in the Aeolian Islands, 2nd-century BC wreck A in Filicudi had the greatest quantity of material; it is where the wine amphorae were found, placed in the centre of the Museum hall almost as if to suggest their original location inside the ship’s hold.
The amphorae, pottery and louterion related to wreck F, from the first half of the 3rd century BC, also come from the Capo Graziano shallows in Filicudi.
Another important wreck, named Relitto Alberti after the person who discovered it, was found in Panarea not far from the Formiche rocks.
The ship’s cargo was scattered at a depth of around 50 metres and contained around 150 amphorae from the middle of the 1st century AD. From Vulcano, on the seabed of Punta Luccia near the east coast, comes the cargo of 25 amphorae and the stump of a lead anchor from a late-republican ship from the 1st century BC. The cargo of the Punta Crapazza wreck, from the 4th-5th century AD, also comes from Vulcano. The ship was carrying a unique cargo consisting of tin ingots from Spain, clods of arsenic sulphide (realgar) used as dye, and peanuts.