30 meters long roman shipwreck found in Spain
November 13th, 2006
||Madrid - Marine archeologists announced that the shipwreck of a first-century
vessel carrying delicacies, such as the famous garum souce, to the finest palates of the Roman Empire
had proved to be a dazzling find, with bones still nestling inside two-handled clay jars of fish sauce.
Recreational sailors came across the remains in 2000 when an anchor was tangled up in them in shallow waters,
and after years of arranging financing and assembling crews,
exploration of the site off Alicante in southeast Spain began in July, said Carles de Juan,
a co-director of the project, who works for the Valencia regional government.
"The ship is estimated to be 30 meters (100 feet) long with capacity for around 400 tonnes of cargo,
making it twice the size of most other Roman shipwrecks found in the Mediterranean, de Juan said.
The freight was an estimated 1,500 well-preserved clay amphoras, or two-handled jars, used in this case
to hold fish sauce (garum or liquamen) a common condiment for romans, he said.
Javier Nieto, director of the Center for Underwater Archeology of Catalonia and not related to this project,
also called it immensely important because of the fine condition of the cargo. No other Roman shipwreck is currently under study in the Mediterranean, he added.
"For archeologists, a sunken ship is a historic document that tells us about ancient history and how its economy worked," Nieto said from Barcelona. "This ship will contribute a lot."
This ship probably sank in a storm while sailing back to Rome from Cadiz in the south of what is now Spain. The storm must have been ferocious because it is odd for such a vessel to have been so close to shore.
"The crew did not care about the cargo or money or anything. They headed for land to save their lives," de Juan said.
De Carles and the other co-director of the project, Franca Cibercchini of the University of Pisa in Italy, presented their first academic report on the site at a marine archaeology conference last week in the town of Gandia, near Valencia.
When word of the find first spread in 2000, pirate scuba divers raided the site and stole some of the amphoras. This forced the Valencia government to build a thick metal grating to cover the remains and protect the jars.
What remains of the wooden structure of the ship itself - about 60 percent - is buried under mud in the seabed, de Juan said.
The cargo probably also includes lead, which the Romans used for plumbing, and copper, which they mixed with tin to make bronze for everything from plates to jewelry.
The fish sauce is no longer in the amphoras because the seals were not hermetic and could not withstand 20 centuries under water. But traces of fish bone remain inside and these will help researchers determine how the sauces were made, de Juan said.