AN international team of archaeologists led by the University of Bradford is looking to uncover the secrets of a mysterious underwater Bronze Age site.

The team is taking part in the first underwater excavation of an important World Heritage Site – a prehistoric settlement at Lake Viverone, Italy, that used to be one of the most vibrant trading centres for bronze artefacts in the area.

The team, funded by the National Geographic Society, is led by the university’s Professor Francesco Menotti, an Anniversary Chair in Archaeology.

Similar swords to those of Viverone have been found as far afield as Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, although the villagers did not trade their metal products with their nearest neighbours.

The team hopes to understand the reasons behind this and, through isotopic analysis of artefacts made at Viverone, pin down where the village sourced its raw materials.

Prof Menotti said: “Viverone is a fascinating, but difficult, place to study which perhaps explains why no excavations have been carried out there before.

“We aim to combine the information we gather from the excavations with scientific analysis of the site and its artefacts, to answer the many questions that surround the settlement.”

Viverone was discovered in the 1970s, but the new project will be the first time it has been excavated and scientifically analysed in a systematic way.

The wooden piles on which the settlement was built around 3,500 years ago are still visible beneath the water.

An underwater Remote Operated Vehicle will map the site and create a detailed plan with soil samples analysed to understand the climatic conditions and how these changed before, during and after the occupation.

Underwater archaeologists will dive into the lake to dig exploratory trenches at two locations within the village, to see what information lies beneath the surface.

Professor Menotti added: “We hope this initial research will give us an idea how much more Viverone can tell us and show whether further excavation is needed.

“We also hope that by understanding more about the village, we can help to put a preservation strategy in place, to ensure that this important site and the stories it can tell us are not lost to future generations.”