A Tourist In Italy Made A Discovery That Baffled Historians

Most people go scuba diving to explore underwater life. The same was true for Stefano Mariottini, a chemist who was on vacation in southern Italy. Though he was not the most experienced of scuba divers, he learned the ropes well enough to spend the last day of his trip traversing the waters on his own. That’s when he stumbled upon something that he could not believe. The discovery spurred questions, and even conspiracies, from historians and experts around the world. Read on to unravel the mystery no one could have seen coming.

A Renowned Region Of Italy

A map indicates the Calabria region of Italy in red.
craig_s_bell/Twitter
craig_s_bell/Twitter

Our story takes place in the Riace Marina in the region of Calabria, Italy. The area is in Southern Italy; many find Italy to look like a boot, in which case Riace would be somewhere around the big toe.

The larger area of Calabria would be from the tip of the toe to about halfway up the heel, as shown in this image. This region is known for its ancient findings and has some of the earliest records of human life in Italy.

The Open Air Museum

Tourists explore ruins in Italy.
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

Calabria has been nicknamed the “Open Air Museum” thanks to its abundance of ruins and archeological findings. While the entire country of Italy is a gold mine for ancient artifacts, the region of Calabria is especially dense.

Treasure that any ancient history buff would dream of discovering can be found there. However, the young man who discovered something while scuba diving was not a historian. He was an everyday guy on vacation from his life as a chemist.

An Average Man On Vacation

People lounge on a beach in Italy.
Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images
Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Stefano Mariottini was just your average chemist on a vacation from his residence in Rome. He chose the south of Italy to soak up the sun on the coast.

Though he likely knew that the place he’d chosen to go– Riace Marina– was in one of the ancient ruin capitals of the world, nothing could have prepared Stefano for what was about to happen. It was at the very end of his trip that his life would change forever.

An Amateur Scuba Diver

A scuba diver reaches towards a reef bed.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Stefano decided to spend his last vacation day scuba diving about 200 yards off the Riace Marina. Despite not being the most experienced scuba diver, the pressure of it being his last day may be what motivated him to reach further out.

The water is this region is clear and the conditions were ideal. Whether he realized it or not, he was swimming in an area that was once completely occupied by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Examining Fish

A scuba diver looks at a school of fish.
David LEFRANC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
David LEFRANC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Stefano spent much of his time doing what most tourists do when they scuba dive: examining schools of fish. Not every body of water is as crystal clear as the area he chose to dive in, making it a good spot to become familiar with underwater life.

His unclouded line of vision is also what enabled a discovery to happen. Now that he was familiar enough with diving, he could explore below the water’s surface without hesitation. That’s when he found it.

Unexplored Territory

A scuba diver explores an underwater cave.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The novice diver took his last dive of the day sometime in the afternoon. Since this would likely be the last time he went scuba diving for a while, he dared to explore an area he’d yet to check out.

He found that rocks were covering the bottom of a reef bed. Since many unusual creatures are not out in plain sight, he figured this would be a good place to find something exotic. He had no idea how right he was.

A Human Arm?

A scuba diver uses a flashlight in dark water.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The first thing he noticed was that there were, in fact, a plethora of exotic fish hiding in that reef bed. He was taken aback by all of the mesmerizing creatures until something else stole his attention.

At first, the object looked like a human arm. Shocked and low on oxygen, Stefano returned to the surface of the water. He refueled his tank and braced himself for what was to come. Then, he bravely returned to the spot he had been.

The Discovery Of A Lifetime

A statue is covered in sea life at the bottom of the ocean.
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

Stefano realized that he was right about his finding being an arm, but it didn’t exactly belong to a human. As he went closer, he reached out to touch the arm and immediately realized it was far too firm to be a human.

His chemistry background may have come in handy (no pun intended) because it was clear to Stefano exactly what this item was made of. The arm was made of bronze that had aged in the water.

The Hidden Gem

One of the statues found by Stefano is photographed.
Silvia/Pinterest
Silvia/Pinterest

Realizing that the hand was made of bronze, Stefano quickly proceeded to uncover whatever the hand was attached to. He pushed the sand to the side to reveal an entire statue of a man.

The item was clearly ancient based upon its look and condition. However, Stefano didn’t have an eye for this sort of thing since that was not his expertise. He knew that he would need to call it in. But then he made his second unbelievable discovery.

More To Uncover

A team of scuba divers excavate something underwater.
ScubaDiver_Rob/Pinterest
ScubaDiver_Rob/Pinterest

Stefano was mesmerized by his find. The exhilaration of revealing something that held a key to the past may be what motivated him to keep digging. He spent hours uncovered the statue.

His attention to detail brought him a second round of wild success when Stefano stumbled upon something else hidden at the bottom of the see. Near the initial statue, he’d found yet another statue! Bothof them were undoubtedly ancient artifacts.

Careful Removal

One of the statues is removed with a rope.
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

As soon as he could, Stefano notified the proper authorities. News traveled fast and before long, people gathered around on the coast of the Riace Marina to catch a glimpse of the mysterious finds.

While everyone was eager to bring the objects onto land for a closer look, doing so proved to be a delicate process. The pressure of the water could do damage to the precious items if they were improperly removed.

Bringing The Statues To The Surface

Two men carry the first statue out of the sea.
@romepix/Twitter
@romepix/Twitter

Experts devised a way to excavate the statues without damaging them by knocking into a reef on the way up or squeezing it too tightly with the ropes. Despite sitting in water for potentially thousands of years, the statues were remarkably well preserved.

At first glance, this image of one of the statues coming out of the water looks like a live man. The discoloration was the predominant aesthetic damage, but a lot more would go into restoring these statues than meets the eye.

The Proud Discoverer

Stefano poses with the statue while surrounded by a crowd of people.
John Trikeriotis/Twitter
John Trikeriotis/Twitter

Here, Stefano smiles while squatting down in front of one of the statues he spotted. It’s difficult to imagine the pride one would feel knowing that they accomplished such a huge achievement by complete accident.

He’s pictured next to a fellow scuba diver, who may have been nearby when the discovery was made. While the crowd may have been smitten with Stefano and his good luck, the real skill would come in when the professionals attempted to restore the items.

Calling In The Experts

Experts gather around the statues in a lab.
Saida El Alloumi/Twitter
Saida El Alloumi/Twitter

Archeologists were needed to predict what these statues were, other than male figures, and who had made them. The key to both questions would come from determining how old they were and then working backward from there.

Researchers and scientists would be needed in order to put together the many pieces of this puzzle. For the time being, all that anyone knew what the nickname they had been given. The first one that was found was called Statue A, and the second would be referred to as Statue B.

A Greek And Roman Mixture

The first statue is pictured standing upright.
Quo Que/Pinterest
Quo Que/Pinterest

One fascinating thing about these statues is that they were truly a product of their environment. Remember when we mentioned that southern Italy had been a popular spot for immigrant Greeks?

While the date of the statues determined that they were made by the Romans, several features suggested something else. Both the style and the size of the statues are characteristic of Greek art. This suggests that both statues may be a symbol of the fusion of two cultures.

Not The Same Age

The faces of both statues are male warriors.
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

Since the statues were found in such close proximity, you would assume that they would be the same age, or at least made by the same artist. However, both of these assumptions were proven incorrect.

Statue A was determined by experts to have been the older of the two, created somewhere around 450 BC by the artist Myron. Statue B, on the other hand, is thought to be a work of Alkamenes and was determined to be a few decades younger than the other.

How Did They Get There?

The faces of both statues are pictured.
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

While scientists have managed to uncover a great deal about these statues in terms of where they likely come from and what they are made of, they have yet to resolve the mystery of how they got to the bottom of the ocean.

One theory is that there was a shipwreck, but that was quickly debunked due to lack of evidence. Another was that they were thrown off-board on purpose during a pirate chase. However, we may never find out the reason they were in the ocean.

On Display At Last

The two statues stand on display in a museum.
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

The statues were first put on display in 1981, almost a decade after Stefano stumbled upon them while scuba diving. They have since resided at the Archeological Museum in Reggio Calabria.

According to Let Me Know, around 130,000 people have come to visit the statues each year since they were put on display. For art enthusiasts, they are an important piece of historical evidence. Even for the average visitor, they are a marvel to look at, especially given their age.

The Conspiracy

A photograph shows the outside of the Getty Museum in LA.
Santi Visalli/Getty Images
Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Mysterious items such as these statues don’t usually come without their share of conspiracies. One belief that gained some attention originated in the mind of Giuseppe Braghò. In 2008, the art detective claimed that there were not two statues found that day, but three.

According to Braghò, one of the three statues was taken before the authorities were notified. He supposedly had documents that would prove that one of the statues was removed and that the Getty Museum in Los Angeles was involved. The museum simply denied the allegations.

A Legendary Discovery

A closeup shows the improvements made to the first statue that was discovered.
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

While some questions still circulate the mysterious statues found at the bottom of the ocean, one thing is for sure and that is that they are a legendary find. One reason they are so highly regarded is because of their impeccable design.

Even a thousand years later, the ivory eyes still are bright. The lips are made of copper and the teeth of silver. It’s hard to believe that such a monumental discovery was made by an amateur scuba diver on vacation in south Italy.