That Roman Ship With Intact Cargo? Yeah … About That …

There is a story kicking around right now about a shipwreck find near Genoa and my mind has been boggling to see it develop. So right now, pre-coffee, and seeing it in gaining ‘strength’, I’m basically at this point:

Okay, so here’s how it developed this past weekend.  For purposes of review, this seems to have begun with a brief UPI article, which was much-passed-around on the internet via twitter etc.:

An intact Roman ship from the second century B.C. has been discovered off the coast of Genoa in Italy, archaeologists say.

The vessel, which contains hundreds of valuable amphorae — earthenware vessels traditionally used to transport wine — was spotted by police divers roughly one mile from the shore of Alassio in 160 feet of water, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported Friday.

Police said they have been tipped off to the whereabouts of the ship during a year-long investigation into stolen archaeological artifacts sold on the black market in northern Italy.

“This is an exceptional find,” Colonel Francesco Schilardi, who led the police dive team, said. “Now our goal is to preserve the ship and keep thieves out. We are executing surveys and excavations to study the contents of the boat which is perfectly intact.”

Encased in layers of mud, the find promises to yield clues to Rome’s trade activity between the Italian peninsula and other areas in the Mediterranean, experts said.

The ship is thought to have travelled on trade routes between Spain and what is now central Italy and was loaded with more than 200 clay amphorae likely to have contained fish, wine, oil and grain.

… so the source seems to be ANSA, and here’s their report, just for comparison purposes:

An intact Roman ship from the second century BCE has been discovered off the coast of Genoa. The vessel, which contains roughly 50 valuable amphorae, was spotted by police divers roughly one mile from the shore of Alassio, 50 meters underwater. Police were tipped off to the whereabouts of the boat during a yearlong investigation into purloined artefacts sold on the black market in northern Italy. “This is an exceptional find,” said Colonel Francesco Schilardi. “Now our goal is to preserve the ship and keep thieves out. We are executing surveys and excavations to study the contents of the boat which is perfectly intact”. The culture ministry said the ship should prove vital in shedding light on Rome’s trade activity between the Italian peninsula, France and Spain.

Now here’s where it gets weird/frustrating … one of the phenomena of the news side of the internet is that search engines often ‘rediscover’ articles which have the same day and month date, but a different year. Interestingly/coincidentally/suspiciously enough … a year ago, the Age had an article which happened to pop up last week. I should note that, a year ago,  I didn’t deal with this directly at rogueclassicism per se, but did include it in my explorator newsletter. In any event, this is what the Age had on August 8, 2012:

FOR 2000 years the ancient and decomposing hulk lay buried in deep, muddy waters, off the Italian coast.

Everybody knew it was down there because for more than 80 years local fishermen had been collecting bits of Roman artefacts and pots in their nets.

Finds of this nature are not unusual in Italian waters, which are littered with treasures going back thousands of years.

But these artefacts told a different story, and it was good enough to attract the interest of the archaeological community and a police commander who heads an expert diving squad in the city of Genoa.

Lieutenant-Colonel Francesco Schilardi, the commanding officer of the police team that found the wreck, has been referred to as the ”Top Gun” of the oceans because of the secrets he and his team unravel by locating and recovering wrecks and long-lost treasures.

This time the team, including state archaeologists and historians, were so sure that the ocean, close to the town of Varazze, Liguria, was hiding something special that they went to a little more expense to find out what was down there. They used a submarine, a robot and sophisticated mapping and tracking equipment, along with the results of extensive historical studies of the area.

The efforts paid off, with a find described as ”one of the most important” of its kind.

They uncovered a 2000-year-old Roman vessel buried 70-100 metres deep and encased in layers of mud that promises to reveal secrets about the way of life in the 1st century AD, not only in Rome but in other regions that traded with the empire.

The discovery of the food transport vessel, with an estimated 200 clay amphorae on board – and with caps of pine and pitch intact – sent ripples of excitement through archaeological communities partly because the ship and its contents are remarkably well preserved.

”It is a relic of great value,” Lieutenant-Colonel Schilardi, told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. It goes back, he said, to the Roman republican and imperial age, when Rome traded with the Mediterranean countries, primarily Spain, and when the Ligurian Sea and the nerve centre, or the crossroads of Roman marketing and trade at the time.

The sea lanes in the area were used by the Romans to export food including honey, spices and wine from the late Roman Republican era to the beginning of the Augustan Age.

Lieutenant-Colonel Schilardi was also quoted in the Italian press saying the fact the containers were so well preserved might help to reveal important information about diet at the time and perhaps add to cultural and commercial profiles of the period. The fact the wreck was found at such depth, and encased in a bed of sandy mud that is typical of the area, helped ensure the vessel remained in a good state of preservation, he said.

Authorities have sealed off the area to prevent treasure hunters from plundering the site and the attention of the experts has turned to getting finance and state support to recover the wreck and its contents.

Meanwhile the search continues, with archaeologists excited by sonar readings that indicate the sand covering the vessel that may well contain further treasures.

… The discovery did get wide coverage, and what I did post at rogueclassicism was a list of the links: In Explorator 15.17

As you can see, the finds seem to be remarkably similar, differing primarily in the name of the town they are supposedly close to (Alassio v Verraze). But the UPI piece is talking about two hundred amphorae while the source ANSA piece mentions “50 valuable amphorae”, so maybe they’re different finds? Interestingly, though, the piece from the Age also mentions 200 amphorae.

Now just to further add to the confusion, the usually-reliable Live Science comes out with a piece which appears to be a mashup of the coverage from a year ago and the most recent … here’s the incipit:

For fans of Italian cuisine, the news of a well-preserved ancient Roman shipwreck — whose cargo of food might still be intact — will surely whet their appetites.

The ship is believed to be about 2,000 years old and is buried in the mud off the coast of Varazze, Italy, according to The Age. The mud kept the wreck hidden for centuries, but also helped to preserve it and its cargo, held in clay jars known as amphorae.

“There are some broken jars around the wreck, but we believe that most of the amphorae inside the ship are still sealed and food-filled,” Lt. Col. Francesco Schilardi, commander of the police diving team that found the shipwreck, told the BBC. [Photos: Shipwreck Alley's Sunken Treasures]

Local fishermen suspected there might be a wreck in the area, because pieces of pottery kept turning up in their nets. Police divers used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to locate the shipwreck about 160 feet (50 meters) underwater.

“This is an exceptional find,” Schilardi said. “Now, our goal is to preserve the ship and keep thieves out. We are executing surveys and excavations to study the contents of the boat, which is perfectly intact.”

Using sophisticated technologies like ROVs, sonar mapping equipment and genetic analysis, marine archaeologists have had considerable success in recent years in recovering well-preserved artifacts from shipwrecks. [...]

… the article includes links, so you might want to check them out, but the editor is either unaware or doesn’t care that he’s linking to coverage from a year ago!

Whatever the case, I’d really like some clarification whether this is a new find or not or whether this is a followup investigation of some sort. More likely, it seems to me, some editor saw the same Age piece pop up in their daily search, didn’t check the date, and ran with it …

Possible Sunken Ships Near Tieion/Tios

From Hurriyet comes a piece exhibiting their frequent problems with B.C./A.D. and its variations:

Two sunken ships have been seen by fishermen off the ancient city of Tieion in Çaycuma’s Filyos district in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.

With notice that two sunken ships have been seen off the ancient city of Tieion in Çaycuma’s Filyos district in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak, officials have applied to the Culture and Tourism Ministry for diving permission and funding.

The head of the Karabük University Archaeology Department and archaeological excavations, Professor Sümer Atasoy said that they had previously known about the sunken ships in the port of the ancient city but could not have determined their place.

Atasoy said they estimated that the ships had sunk after hitting the rocks, and continued: “We are waiting for permission and funding from the relevant ministry. Two ancient ships are in question. It is told that the ships have pots, columns and stones. We don’t know how deep they are. When we get the fund and permission, divers will dive to take photos and we will have an idea about their location and depth.”

Second AD and 13th BC

Atasoy said after the first examinations, archaeologist divers would continue working, adding, “Underwater archaeology necessitates a different technique. We need to hurry to preserve the sunken ships, which may be from the Roman, Byzantium or Genoese periods between second A.D. and 13th centuries B.C.

We first heard about the plans to dig at Teion back in 2007 (Digging Teion) and the digging seems to have commenced a year later (Digging Teion Redux). More recently, we’ve heard about plans for the theatre they’ve been excavating (Cashing in on Tios’ Theatre?).

Finds from Zakynthos

I’m somewhat skeptical about this one as it is being reported … from the Greek Reporter:

A submerged underwater archaeological site with extensive sunken architectural remains was found by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities team at a depth of 200 to 600 m. off the Alikanas beach on northeast Zakynthos, the Ionian Sea Island, as archaiologia.gr revealed.

The team has begun exploring around the area since May 13, 2013, after an invitation made by the Municipality of Zakynthos.

The large site covers about 30,000 sq. m., something that reflects the existence of a significant ancient settlement in the Alikanas area. It contains a visible courtyard, ancient building material and at least 20 circular column bases, with a 34 cm hollow in the center where a wooden column may have been inserted.

Initial assessment leads to the result that the remains belong to a large ancient public building, which is probably related to the ancient city’s port. However, due to the absence of pottery from the surface, it is still not that easy to date the find.

The Municipality of Zakynthos along with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities will proceed to more extensive research and mapping of the site as soon as possible, so as new evidence will be found of the history and topography of ancient Zakynthos.

The original article includes a photo of what might be one of the column bases. Even so — and acknowledging that the area around Zakynthos is earthquake prone — we’re talking a very large site which is supposedly 200m to 600m below the surface of the sea. That’s pretty deep for a major site to sink and no one to mention it. I’m very curious how this was explored (divers? submarine? robot?) and whether it might not make more sense to see this as one or more shipwrecks full of building materials … we definitely need more details on this one.

Pondering the Belgammel Ram

Interesting item from the National Oceanography Centre (UK)/University of Southampton:

Known as the Belgammel Ram, the 20kg artefact was discovered by a group of British divers off the coast of Libya near Tobruk in 1964. The ram is from a small Greek or Roman warship – a “tesseraria”. These ships were equipped with massive bronze rams on the bow at the waterline and were used for ramming the side timbers of enemy ships. At 65cm long, the Belgammel Ram is smaller in size and would have been sited on the upper level on the bow. This second ram is known as a proembolion, which strengthened the bow and also served to break the oars of an enemy ship.

Leading marine archaeologist, Dr Nic Flemming a visiting fellow of the National Oceanography Centre, co-ordinated a team of specialists from five institutes to analyse the artefact before it was returned to the National Museum in Tripoli in May 2010. Their results have been published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Dr Flemming said: “Casting a large alloy object weighing more than 20kg is not easy. To find out how it was done we needed specialists who could analyse the mix of metals in the alloys; experts who could study the internal crystal structure and the distribution of gas bubbles; and scholars who could examine the classical literature and other known examples of bronze castings.

“Although the Belgammel Ram was probably the first one ever found, other rams have since been found off the coast of Israel and off western Sicily. We have built a body of expertise and techniques that will help with future studies of these objects and improve the accuracy of past analysis.”

Dr Chris Hunt and Annita Antoniadou of Queen’s University Belfast used radiocarbon dating of burnt wood found inside the ram to date it to between 100 BC to 100 AD. This date is consistent with the decorative style of the tridents and bird motive on the top of the ram, which were revealed in detail by laser-scanned images taken by archaeologist Dr Jon Adams of the University of Southampton.

It is possible that during its early history the bronze would have been remelted and mixed with other bronze on one or more occasions, perhaps when a warship was repaired or maybe captured.

The X-ray team produced a 3-D image of the ram’s internal structure using a machine capable of generating X-rays of 10 mevs to shine through 15cm of solid bronze. By rotating the ram on a turntable and making 360 images they created a complete 3-D replica of the ram similar to a medical CT scan. An animation of the X-rays has been put together by Dr Richard Boardman of m-VIS (mu-VIS), a dedicated centre for computed tomography (CT) at the University of Southampton.

Further analysis was carried out by geochemists Professor Ian Croudace, Dr Rex Taylor and Dr Richard Pearce at the University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science (based at the National Oceanography Centre). Micro-drilled samples show that the composition of the bronze was 87 per cent copper, 6 per cent tin and 7 per cent lead. The concentrations of the different metals vary throughout the casting. Scanning Electron Microscopy, SEM, reveals that the lead was not dissolved with the other metals to make a composite alloy but that it had separated out into segregated intergranular blobs within the alloy as the metal cooled.

These results indicate the likelihood that the Belgammel Ram was cast in one piece and cooled as a single object. The thicker parts cooled more slowly than the thin parts so that the crystal structure and number of bubbles trapped in the metal varies from place to place.

The isotope characterisation of the lead component found in the bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) can be used as a fingerprint to reveal the origin of the lead ore used in making the metal alloy. Up until now, this approach has only provided a general location in the Mediterranean. But recent advances in the analysis technique means that the location can be identified with higher accuracy. The result shows that the lead component of the metal could have come from a district of Attica in Greece called Lavrion. An outcome of this improved technique means that the method can now be applied to other ancient metal artefacts to discover where the ore was sourced.

Micro-X-Ray fluorescence of the surface showed that corrosion by seawater had dissolved out some of the copper leaving it richer in tin and lead. It is significant that when comparing photographs from 1964 and 2008 there is no indication of change in the surface texture. This implies that the metal is stable and is not suffering from “Bronze Disease,” a corrosion process that can destroy bronze artefacts.

The Belgammel Ram was found by a group of three British service sports divers off the coast of Libya at the mouth of a valley called Waddi Belgammel, near Tobruk. Using a rubber dinghy and rope they dragged it 25 metres to the surface. It was brought home to the UK as a souvenir but when the divers discovered that it was a rare antiquity, the ram was loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Ken Oliver is the only surviving member of that group of three and the effective owner. He decided in 2007 that is should be returned to a museum in Libya. With the help of the British Society for Libyan Studies this was arranged in 2010. During the intervening period Dr Nic Flemming invited experts to undertake scientific investigations prior to its return to Libya. These services were offered freely and would have cost many tens of thousands of pounds if conducted commercially. The team’s objective was to understand how such a large bronze was cast, the history and composition of the alloy, its strength, how it was used in naval warfare, and how it survived 2,000 years under the sea.

Since the Belgammel Ram was discovered, other rams have been found, some off the coast of Israel near Athlit, and more recently, off western Sicily. The latter finds look to be the remains of a battle site. On 8 April there is a one-day colloquium hosted by the Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford, to discuss the finds of the Egadi Islands Project.

Nic Flemming continued: “We have learned such a huge amount from the Belgammel Ram and have developed new techniques which will help us unpick future mysteries.

“We will never know why the Belgammel Ram was on the seabed near Tobruk. There may have been a battle in the area, a skirmish with pirates. It could be that it was cargo from an ancient commercial vessel, about to be sold as salvage. The fragments of wood inside the ram show signs of fire, and we now know that parts of the bronze had been heated to a high temperature since it was cast which caused the crystal structure to change. The ship may have caught fire and the ram fell into the sea as the flames licked towards it. Some things will always remain a mystery. But we are pleased that we have gleaned so many details from this study that will help future work.”

The Libyan uprising of 2011 resulted in many battles in the area around the museum. Fortunately the museum suffered no damage. The Belgammel Ram is safe.

Additional coverage worth checking out:

Folks seeking comparanda might want to check out the articles/coverage associated with the Acqualadrone ram:

Recent Finds from Heraklion

A bit vague … from Greek Reporter:

A series of important archaeological findings has gradually been unearthed by the sunken submarine research in the Heraklion port located in ancient Egypt, the last years, according to announcements made at an international scientific conference at the University of Oxford.

The coastal city on the delta of the Nile, called Heraklion by Greeks, and Thomis by Egyptians, was an important gateway to Egypt during the first millennium BC, while now having sunk, it is located approximately 6.5 km from the coast. According to the latest evidence, before the founding of Alexandria, it was one of the greatest commercial hubs in the Mediterranean.

Researchers of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology (OCMA), in collaboration with the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) and the Department of Antiquities of Egypt have been conducting underwater researches in the region since 2000, and every year new data comes to light.

‘Surveys have revealed a huge submerged landscape with remains of at least two major ancient settlements in a part of the Nile, where natural and artificial navigable channels intersected’ Dr. Damien Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology said.

Excavations in the Heraklion area have brought to light many findings including, as stated by the researcher of Oxford, Elizabeth van der Vilt, weights from ancient Athens.

Another Oxford researcher, Sandra Heids, has examined more than 300 statues and amulets, dating from the Late and Ptolemaic period depicting Egyptian and Greek figures. Like the ships, these findings have also been maintained in excellent condition and most of them depict deities such as Osiris, Isis and Horus.

According to the researchers, such statuettes and amulets were massively produced, mostly for Egyptians, though several of them were purchased by foreign visitors as well (traders, etc), who used to devote them to several churches in their countries.

… the conference was a week or so ago; perhaps we’ll be hearing more …

More Antikythera Wreck Hype

Jo Marchant has written another piece for the Guardian (confusingly, with the same title as a previous piece) detailing a bit more what they hope to find … in medias res:

[...] For centuries Antikythera was in a busy shipping lane, but surprisingly its treacherous underwater cliffs and reefs are not littered with sunken ships (perhaps those ancient navigators were more skilled than we thought). And there are no obvious signs of a wreck at the site supposedly excavated by Cousteau, suggesting that he recovered all of the visible items there – or that he planted some of his finds for the cameras.

But 200 metres away, the divers found artefacts spread across the rocky sea floor, on a steep slope between 35 and 60 metres deep.

The largest item recovered was a huge lead anchor stock. It was lying on a semicircular object that might be a scupper pipe, used to drain water from the ship’s deck. If so, the ship may have gone down as she was sailing with the anchor stowed. The team also raised an intact storage jar (amphora), which matches those previously recovered from the wreck. DNA tests may reveal its original contents.

Most intriguing are dozens of irregular spherical objects sprinkled across the wreck site. They look like rocks but contain flecks of green, suggesting small bronze fragments, corroded and encrusted in sediment after thousands of years in the sea. This is just what the Antikythera mechanism looked like when it was discovered. Then again, they could be collections of ship’s nails.

Because the artefacts the team found are a short distance from the site investigated by Cousteau, it’s possible that they belong to a second ship from around the same date as the original wreck, perhaps part of the same fleet. But Foley thinks it more likely that all of the remains come from one vessel that broke up as it sank.

To confirm this, he hopes to revisit the site later this year. He wants to use metal detectors to map the distribution of metal and ceramic objects buried beneath the surface, as well as dig a few test trenches. “I’m intensely curious about what’s in the sediments,” he says. [...].

cf. our previous coverage on Foley’s work … it includes a link to Marchant’s previous item: Returning to Antikythera