Friday, July 24, 2009

Call me goofy, but I love reading about this stuff.

Amphorae from a Roman shipwreck are seen on the seabed near the Italian island of Ventotene. Archaeologists using sonar technology to scan the seabed have discovered a "graveyard" of five pristine ancient Roman shipwrecks near the island.

I suppose if fortune had taken another turn, I might have ended up a marine archaeologist. I did once, during the drought of 1988, locate the wreck site of a Civil War-era sternwheeler which sank in 1862 while on Federal service in the old bed of the Mississippi between Arkansas and Mississippi downstream from Memphis. Of course I had to hire a professional MA out of Baton Rouge with a magnetometer to confirm the wreck site.

Unfortunately, although the river went elsewhere after the war, the wreck lies in a federally protected wetlands. No can dig. So sez both the EPA and the Corps of Engineers. Too bad, it is a significant wreck from a transitional phase of steamboat construction, and it had some nice sutler's stores and other goodies on it when it went down.

Anyway, this story below jumped out at me while I was checking my email a bit ago, and I thought I'd share it with you. Of course I can't dive myself. Bad inner ear. Can't get beyond twenty or thirty feet. But I can wish, can't I?


Explorers Find Ancient Shipwrecks

ROME (July 24) - Archaeologists have found five well-preserved Roman shipwrecks deep under the sea off a small Mediterranean island, with their cargo of vases, pots and other objects largely intact, officials said Friday.

The ships are submerged about 300 to 500 feet off Ventotene, a tiny island that is part of an archipelago off Italy's west coast between Rome and Naples.

The ships, which date from between the 1st century B.C. and the 4th century, carried amphorae — vases used for holding wine, olive oil and other products — as well as kitchen tools and metal and glass objects that have yet to be identified, Italy's Culture Ministry said. The spot was highly trafficked, and hit by frequent storms and dangerous sea currents.

The discovery is part of a new drive by archaeological officials to scan deeper levels of the sea and prevent looting of submerged treasures.

Discoveries of shipwrecks are not unusual in the Mediterranean, but these ships are far better preserved than most, which are often found scattered in fragments, said Annalisa Zarattini, the head of the ministry's office for underwater archaeology.

Because the ships sank at a deeper lever than most known wrecks, they were not exposed to destructive underwater currents, she said.

The ships also sank without capsizing, allowing researchers to observe their cargo largely as it had been loaded, Zarattini said.

"It is like an underwater museum," Zarattini said. The finding also sheds light on the trade routes of ancient Rome, marking the area as a major commercial crossroads, she said.

Treasure hunters usually dive down to about 100 feet underwater, but new and fast-spreading technology will make it increasingly easier for them to dive deep, Zarattini said. "It's important to arrive first," she added.

The ships were found during explorations concluded earlier this month by the ministry and the AURORA Trust, a U.S. group that gathers maritime researchers and provides equipment to explore the sea.

The researchers used sonar technology to provide imagery of the seabed and then employed remotely operated vehicles, the Culture Ministry and the AURORA Trust said.
The oldest of the ships has a cargo of wine amphorae from southern Italy, some stacked in their original position, AURORA said. Another one was carrying moratoria, large bowls used to grind grains. Another was loaded with African amphorae carrying garum, a fish sauce that was a delicacy in ancient Rome.

The largest wreck measures more than 65 feet.

A handful of objects were taken out to be studied and will be put on display in Ventotene.


doubletrouble said...

Yeah, me too.
I think it's all part of the little kid in us, the one that KNOWS "lost treasure" is out there, whether old pottery, guns, cannon, or coin.
I just stumbled on a map of the shipwrecks of Sable Island in NS, practically on my back door; too old to start diving now though... sigh...

Toastrider said...

Have you read Clive Cussler's Sea Hunters books? While his fiction is something of a guilty pleasure, I was fascinated to read about the recovery of the Hunley.

SamenoKami said...

I tho't I was the only gunner geeky enough to like this stuff. I'm in good company.


rexxhead said...

If anybody finds a wreck containing hermetically sealed Solothurns or Lahtis, contact me for financing ;-)

Chaplain Tim said...

Back in the late '60s a steamboat carrying supplies was found not too far from where I live. The river had shifted, so it was in the middle of a corn field. Most of the supplies (originally headed for mining camps, fur traders, and Army posts in 1865) were well preserved and now reside in a clean little museum off the beaten path.
If you want to see an overview. If you're ever in the Omaha. NE area (like maybe a book-signing tour) drop me a note and we'll go visit it.