Wreckage From Ancient Roman Ship Found Off the Coast of Italy

Thu, 08/03/2023 - 14:01
Amphorae in the wreckage
Amphorae in the wreckage / Carabinieri handout photo

Late last week, the wreckage of a Roman-era cargo ship was discovered in the waters off the coast of the commercial port city of Civitavecchia, 80km (50 miles) northwest of Rome. 

The 20-meter (65-foot) vessel, which is believed to date back to around the first or second century BCE, was found on the sandy floor at a depth of 160m (525ft) below sea level.

Apart from the sunken ship’s astonishing ancient origins, the hull turned out to be a variable treasure chest of items from antiquity, including a cache of well-preserved Roman terracotta jars. Known as amphorae, the Bronze-aged, Greco-Roman clay pots are characterized by two handles and a narrow neck. The jars were typically used to store and transport wine, oil and grain.

“The exceptional find is an important example of an ancient ship facing the perils of the sea in an attempt to reach the coast, and bears witness to ancient maritime trade routes,” said a statement from the Carabinieri Art Squad.

The discovery was made by a group of scuba-diving archaeologists using a remote-controlled robot with a camera to film the submerged wreckage up close. 

The remarkable find was made possible by a coordinated effort between the Italian cultural heritage protection task force (of which the Carabinieri Art Squad forms part) and the National Superintendence for Underwater Cultural Heritage of Taranto (Puglia). Together the archaeological- and law enforcement-focused agencies protect the peninsula’s important heritage sites and artifacts from looters that would otherwise illegally recover and sell them on the black market to unscrupulous art dealers.

The Carabinieri and archaeologists are working to secure the salvage site, but there’s no word yet if recovery plans are in place to bring the immersed ship up from its watery grave.