ROMAN ERA SHIPWRECKS FOUND OFF ITALY'S WEST COAST
A team of archaeologists has discovered a trove of five Roman-era shipwrecks deep under the sea off a small Mediterranean island. The find of well-preserved ships, made possible by sonar technology and the use of remotely operated vehicles, includes cargo of largely intact clay vases and pots transporting wine, olive oil, fish sauce and other goods.
Resting untouched between 330 to 490 feet underwater near the small island of Ventotene, which lies 30 miles off the Italian coast halfway between Rome and Naples, the ships date from the 1st century B.C. to the 5th century A.D.
From their cargo, archaeologists from the U.S. group AURORA Trust and Italy's Ministry of Culture, established that the vessels were transporting goods from Italy, Spain and North Africa. They were probably heading for safe anchorage, but then sunk during a storm.
"Ventotene is a small island in the open sea. It was on major trade routes and was both a safe haven and a danger to shipping," Timmy Gambin, head of archaeology for the Aurora Trust, told Discovery News.
The oldest ship -- approximately 18 meters (59 feet) long, 5 meters (16.4 feet) wide and perhaps 2,100 years old -- was carrying clay amphorae (a type of ceramic vase with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body) filled with wine from the southern Italian region of Campania.
Two other ships, one dating from the 1st century A.D. and the other from the 5th century A.D., carried hundreds of Spanish and north African amphorae filled with the "ketchup" of the ancient Romans: a pungent fish sauce called garum. Another 1st century vessel ship carried a mixed cargo of mortaria (large bowls used to grind grains) and wine from Campania.
The largest of all five vessels was a 2000-year-old ship that measured 20 meters (65 feet) long by 5 meters (16.4 feet) wide -- and was carrying a mixed cargo, including Italian wine and glass items and metal bars and cylinders that have yet to be identified.
"They have been transferred to the museum of Ventotene where they will be desalinated, restored and eventually displayed," the AURORA team said.
The discovery is part of a new drive by archaeological officials to survey deeper levels of the sea and prevent looting of submerged treasures. Because of their depth, the ships have eluded ordinary treasure hunters. Treasure hunters usually dive down to about 30 meters (about 100 feet)underwater.
But Gambin warned that in the near future, new diving technologies will allow treasure hunters to dive deeper, making sites like this this one more accessible.
"It's a race against time," he said.
Experts from the AURORA Trust will return to Ventotene for further explorations next summer.