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Mystery of seabed resolved with 2,000-year old ship's discovery

Marciana Marina, Italy, Aug 24, IRNA -- A mystery which has baffled generations of local fishermen on the Tuscan island of Elba was finally resolved this week, when a 2,000-year old perfectly preserved Roman shipwreck was discovered on the seabed.

For years fishermen complained that their nets snagged in an area of the sea which, according to nautical maps, had a smooth, muddy base, wrote ANSA's Karma Hickman from Marciana Marina, on Friday.

Likewise the patch of water off the northwestern coastal village of Marciana Marina teemed with fish such as lobsters and crabs which can normally only be found in rocky areas. Familiar with the legend, two Elban locals, environmentalist Gian Lorenzo Anselmi, and an expert of ancient ships Sergio Spina, finally decided resolve the conundrum once and for all, and sent a two-man scubadiving team down to explore the area properly. At 64 meters (210ft) down, divers Marco Agnoloni and Popi Adriani, uncovered the first signs of the wreck, a series of massive containers known as dolium. "This is a truly sensational discovery," Anselmi told ANSA today, "as it's the first time ever that this number of perfectly intact doliums has been discovered in the Mediterranean". Agnoloni and Adriani, both underwater archeology experts, returned to the surface with reels of film showing the nine, perfectly preserved ceramic containers, half covered by mud.

The size of the doliums - around two meters high and five meters in diameter - has led experts to put the length of the boat at around 22 meters. It also convinced them that the wreck dates back to some time during the first Roman empire. Significantly, the positioning of the dolium suggests that the still-hidden ship is perfectly preserved beneath the mud. Furthermore, the depth of the ship means it has probably not been disturbed by wreck-robbers in search of items to sell on the international black market - a common problem for Italy's archaeological heritage.

"This is the first time a complete, inviolate wreck has been ound," Michelangelo Zecchini, an archaeologist who works for the Forum UNESCO commented. "However in itself just the number of containers and their superb condition makes this a truly astounding discovery".

The ship is currently under a meter of lime, but once excavation ork starts, experts are hoping it will prove a gold mine of information. The boat, which was probably transporting grain, will provide valuable details on the layout and cargo of naves onerariae, or cargo boats. This in turn will help historians understand Mediterranean shipping routes of the time in greater detail. However the team is in no rush to bring the wreck to the surface. Anselmi, who heads the local branch of environmental group Legambiente, explained, "with the advanced state of technology today, he ship can be thoroughly uncovered and detailed research carried out underwater. "We want to discover as much as we can, disturbing the wreck as little as possible". He admitted however that with the discovery of the ship, the site could become a possible target for wreck robbers, and together with pina, is pushing for video cameras to be installed. Marciana Marina Mayor Giovanni Martini is in favor of the proposal, which would allow for round-the-clock surveillance of the site, but said "the final decision rests with the regional council's archeology department and the Culture Ministry". If the plan is approved, Anselmi hopes the video cameras will play a double role. "Ideally, we hope to link them up with an on-line website, which would transmit footage of the boat 24 hours a day," he explained. "This will give people from around the world the chance to admire the wreck in its 'natural' setting".



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