ROME: Roman ships
In 2009, underwater archaeologists in Italy discovered the wrecks of five ancient Roman ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps more interestingly is that most of their cargo was still in place and largely intact!
The ships were lying in up to 150 metres (500 feet) of water off the tiny island of Ventotene, found between Rome and Naples. This area was once a major trade route between Rome and its North African territories.
They Roman ships - the biggest of which was about 20 metres long (60 feet) - were between 1,600 and 1,900 years old, and were laden with - among other things - jars for carrying wine, olive oil and fish sauce.
One expert said:
‘…it is like an underwater museum...’
The discovery of wrecked Roman ships is not unusual - there are said to be thousands dotted around the Mediterranean. But Annalisa Zarattini, from the Italian Culture Ministry, said these ones were much better preserved than usual because they had sank into deeper water, which protected them from destructive currents.
The Roman ships also sank without capsizing which allowed underwater archaeologists to examine the cargo in almost the form it had been loaded.
Officials said that these finds were the result of a new drive by archaeologists to scan deeper waters, a project organised by the culture ministry and the Aurora Trust, a maritime research group. The plan was prompted in part by a desire to prevent the looting of treasures. However, because of improving technology, such as sonar technology and miniature robotic submarines, looters are now able to dive to greater depths than in the past.
One of the most important Roman ships ever found was wrecked off the coast of Spain in the 1st Century AD. It is believed that the vessel, 60% of which is now buried in mud on the sea floor, went down in a storm while sailing from Cadiz in southern Spain to Rome. Mr de Juan co-director of the wreck's research team said that the storm must have been of immense strength to drive such a vessel so close to shore.
Thirty metres (100ft) in length and holding 400 tonnes, it is also the largest Roman ship found in the Mediterranean. But it could have stayed lost at sea indefinitely were it not accidentally discovered in 2000 by sailors whose anchor snagged a jar.
Chief amongst the goods the ship was carrying were hundreds of jars of garum - a fish sauce which was a favourite condiment for rich Romans. This highly-prized delicacy was served to wealthy Romans as an accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes and was believed to be an aphrodisiac.
It is thought that the ship was also carrying ingots of lead to be used in plumbing and copper, which could be mixed with tin to make bronze artefacts.
When the ship's discovery was announced in 2000, souvenir hunters targeted it, forcing the Spanish authorities to erect a steel cage around the wreck to protect it.
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Based on an article by http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8168425.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6146592.stm
Photos care of http://100falcons.wordpress.com/2008/10/25/roman-ships/ and http://www.sheshbazzardaq.com/thyatyrus.html