Intact Cargo in Shipwrecks off Zannone

From the Daily Star:

Marine archaeologists have discovered four ancient shipwrecks off the tiny Italian island of Zannone, with their cargoes of wine and oil intact.

The remains of the vessels, dating from the first century BC to the 5th-7th century AD, are up to 165 meters underwater, a depth that preserved them from fishermen over the centuries.

“The deeper you go, the more likely you are to find complete wrecks,” said Annalisa Zarattini, an official from the archaeological services section of the Italian Culture Ministry.

The timber structures have been eaten away by tiny marine organisms, leaving outlines and the cargoes still lying where they were stowed on board.

“The ships sank, they came to rest at the bottom of the sea, the wood disappeared and you find the whole ship, with the entire cargo,” she said. “Nothing has been taken away.”

The discoveries were made through cooperation between Italian authorities and the Aurora Trust, a US foundation that promotes exploration of the Mediterranean seabed.

The vessels, up to 18-meters-long, had been carrying amphorae containing wine from Italy, and cargo from North Africa and Spain including olive oil, fruit and garum, a pungent fish sauce that was a favorite ingredient in Roman cooking.

Another ship, undated, appeared to have been carrying building bricks. It is unclear how the vessels sank. No human remains have been found.

Italy has signed a new UNESCO agreement that requires them to leave the wreckage in place, potentially opening the way to would-be treasure hunters although Zarattini said the benefits in terms of tourism outweighed the risks.

The vessels are the second “fleet” of ships to be discovered in recent years near the Pontine islands, an archipelago off Italy’s west coast believed to have been a key junction for ships bringing supplies to the vast warehouses of Rome.

“One aim,” Zarattini said, “was to test the hypothesis that the Pontine islands, which are very small and which were barely inhabited in antiquity, were really important maritime staging posts because they had very good natural harbors.”

The team hopes to find a secondary cargo of smaller items which they believe would have been stowed in straw and may be well preserved under the crustacean-clad sediments.

… hmmm … I haven’t heard of this UNESCO agreement; seems counterproductive, research-wise, especially in this case, no? Indeed, the depth involved would seem to preclude access by even the ‘treasure hunter’ type, so what’s the point of leaving the stuff down there?