National Geographic : 1969 Feb
Hungry sea snake, a vacuuming air lift devours tons of sand hiding the shipwreck and exposes the eroded marble. Compressors pump air down the small hose, center, and into the tube's mouth, creating suction. Diver in the foreground picks out pot sherds and other small artifacts before the sand gushes away. Last task on his under water shift: double-checking the sand dumped beyond the wreck. Fragments of pots made near Smyrna indicate the ship had stopped at that ancient port. 286 them tender. When I had finished, a slight, dark man, apparently their leader, came over and offered us cigarettes. "Where you from?" he asked. In our broken Italian we told him that we were Americans. "I've got a lot of cousins in America. Glad to meet you. My name's Francesco." He was the boss of the tonnara,the com plex of offshore tuna nets which eventually lead the frightened fish to a trap. "The camera della morte," said Francesco with a gruesome chuckle-"room of death." He and his men invited us to share their lunch of black bread-Francesco owned a bakery, too-goat cheese, and red wine. We asked about the wreck and mentioned that we were looking for a place to stay. "I don't know anything about your sar cophagi, but I'll ask around," Francesco said, with a conspirator's wink. "For your other problem, I've got the solution." He reached into the pocket of his greasy jacket and produced a bunch of black iron keys. One was as big as my hand. He waved toward the tower. "You can stay there all summer if you like." He was, it seemed, also official guardian of the tower. "I look for your wreck, you look for the net anchors I keep losing. Okay?" "Okay," we replied in unison, and that was the beginning of our three summers as the tenants of Torre dell'Ovo. Hopes Stirred by Sight of Marble During the following weeks John and I kept hearing stories of strange things in the sea. We found the sunken remains of Roman har bor works, and several shipwrecks badly broken up in shallow water, but no trace of the wreck full of marble blocks. My wife Joan joined us and, just before John Bullitt had to leave for the United States, Francesco left a message to come see him. I found him at the dock, supervising the loading of the day's tuna catch into his truck. He slapped me on the back. "I know where it is. Let's go!" Ten minutes later we were on the coast road. Just past a settlement called San Pietro, he pulled up his truck, jumped out, and walked to the edge of the water. "Swim there," he said. As I swam over the sandy bottom, a square shape loomed through the clear water-a sar cophagus rough-cut from beautiful white marble. Not far away lay another, and then I saw a whole heap of unfinished sarcophagi.