He, Superintendent of the Sea

The international maritime archaeology community is still reeling today.  Devastated by the tragic loss of Professor Sebastian Tusa, during the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, which crashed on Sunday morning March 10, killing all 157 souls on board.

Sebastiano Tușa left us on the day that history remembers as that of the famous battle of the Egadi, which among all the discoveries of his long career, was the one of which he was most proud: having accurately established the encounter’s timeline, and the precise place where the clash occurred, until then still uncertain.

In a previous post, I wrote that at ISBSA, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Sebastiano was a giant. An internationally renowned prehistoric and maritime archaeologist, he was Director of the journal Sicilia Archeologica, Councilor for Cultural Heritage in the Sicilian Region, and notably Sicily’s Soprintendenza del Mare. He, Superintendent of the Sea.

Since 1972, Sebastiano contributed to and/or directed archaeological projects in Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Japan, Kenya, and Turkey. With over 700 publications to his name, the International Academy of Underwater Sciences and Techniques of Ustica awarded him the gold prize in 2004, and in 2008, Sebastiano and Folco Quilici made an exquisite documentary on the prehistory of the Mediterranean at Pantelleria. The excavations he conducted, and promoted, had confirmed the role of Pantelleria as a “crossroads for merchants” in ancient time.

More than a biography, Sebastiano was a kind friend, a charming colleague, a passionate promoter of Sicily’s efforts to protect underwater cultural heritage and he always had a supportive word for me. With gentle irony, and a humility that belied his achievements, Sebastiano was also quick to recognise, support and build on other’s work. In doing so, he helped create his dream of a better Sicily.

Many knew him much better than I. To quote the office of Soprintendenza del Mare, Sebastiano was a man “with his heart aimed at the past but his mind projected to the future.” It was through his vision for the future that he ensured global efforts to protect underwater cultural heritage came to fruition. He co-drafted, promoted and fervently defended the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. For that, we owe him so enormously much.

A generous professional and an exceptional scholar, Sebastiano was also a man of great passion and energy.  He put his heart and soul into researching, investigating and safeguarding traces of human history found under the seas.  The first email we exchanged at the Nautical Archaeology Society office 15 years ago, feels like only yesterday…

My heart also goes out, not only to all those who knew him, but to the 156 other communities who, like our own, are struggling to come to terms with this unfathomable loss.

Our grief is as deep as the oceans he loved so much.

RIP Sebastiano. May you sail forever in our memories.

If you would like to read about one of Sebastiano’s more recent projects, please visit Treasures of the Aeolian Abyss.

About Sarah Ward

I’m Sarah Ward, a maritime archaeologist, commercial diver and factual presenter with 16 years experience, both in and out of the water. I’ve investigated sites ranging from the Bronze Age to the modern, across more than 20 countries. A Visiting Professor at Dalian Maritime University and MIT Ocean Discovery Fellow, I am on a mission to bring archaeology to a broader audience, helping people to connect with the past in a meaningful way.

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(c) Indiana Sarah 2019