Roman port "discoveries" in Libya

By way of rogueclassicism I found out about a brief notice from ANSA entitled "Scoperti due antichi porti romani in Libia". A slightly longer piece in La Repubblica repeats the "hitherto unknown" assertion. Sicilia Informazioni provides a longer and clearer report on the same information under the title "Ritrovato un porto romano sulle coste della Libia".

I found the piece a bit odd, since it claimed the "discovery" of a Roman port at Hamama in Libya (kml) that "might be" the Phykous (Greek: Φυκοῦς) mentioned by Strabo (17.3.20) and Ptolemy (4.4.5; Latin: Phycus) ... and yet the Barrington Atlas (and after it, Pleiades) have no hesitation in placing Phykous at that very spot. If there were some significant doubt about the siting of a named, attested place, we would have expected the Atlas to indicate such.

A little digging reveals that this inconsistency is probably an accident of editing in the media reports of recent archaeological work. The press release that seems to be behind these stories is posted on the website of the Soprintendenza del Mare, Regione Siciliana (one of the partners in the expedition). This report acknowledges that the site of Phykous (mod. Hamama) has been well-known for some decades, but notes that it have never previously been subjected to systematic survey. Indeed, BAtlas cites G.D.B. Jones and J.H. Little, “Coastal settlement in Cyrenaica,” JRS 61 (1971) 64‑79 for Phykous (via JSTOR, for those with access), where the identification with Hamama is represented as secure.

The press release goes on to communicate some interesting and hitherto unknown things (with illustrations):
  • The expedition team (just returned) conducted a surface walk of the site, 3D laser mapping and total station survey; the site walk recovered 500 artifacts, which have been cataloged for subsequent analysis.
  • Major structures identified include: a possible lighthouse foundation [previously noted by Jones and Little, p. 74], a large rectangular building, a possible theater, numerous rock-cut tombs and quarry sites, as well as a large "control structure" on the summit and two rock-cut caves in the hillside (one possibly used as a church, the other as a synagogue). [Jones and Little had noted "the remains of low walls extend[ing] over an area of c. 24 hectares" (p. 74).]
  • Surf and wind limited the team's ability to conduct an underwater survey, but they did tentatively identify the remains of a long harbor mole, faced with rectangular blocks and filled with rubble.
  • Analysis of pottery and masonry may indicate a foundation date as early as the 4th century BC (attic pottery), with the most frequent and intensive use occurring in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. [Jones and Little had noted "pottery ranging from black-glazed ware to Byzantine coarse wares, indicating an occupation from the fourth century B.C. to the sixth century A.D." (p. 74).]
  • Further west, toward Benghazi (ancient Berenice), the team conducted a limited search at modern El-Ougla (I can't locate this place). Although wind and surf inhibited their work, they identified the heavy foundation of a probable tower as well as two circular tanks possibly used for producing garum. Surface materials are reported to be consistent with occupation and activity during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.
In addition to David Meadows at RC, thanks are due to my employer (NYU) for purchasing a JSTOR subscription that includes JRS, to for posting the text of the press release (a link to the original would have been helpful) and to Brian Turner (UNC-CH) for the Strabo and Ptolemy references (part of his work on enhancing BAtlas content for forthcoming addition to Pleiades). And then of course there's Google's search, without which I wouldn't have been able to hunt down the original.