Roman ship discovered in remarkable condition
It’s been nearly 2,000 years since a Roman cargo ship sank in shallow waters along what is now known as the French Riviera.
Yet, not only are saw and wood-cutting marks still visible on the vessel’s frame, but archaeologists have even found a small caulking brush that was likely left in the ship’s hold during construction.
The wreck was discovered in May during a dig in Antibes, in Southeastern France. The excavation was being done prior to the construction of a parking lot on the site of the ancient Roman port of Antipolis, according to an article that first appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde.
Archaeologists have gradually uncovered a 50-foot length of hull and structural timbers, described as being in “exceptional” condition, according to Giulia Boetto, a specialist in ship design at Aix-Marseille University who is involved in the dig.
“The remains consist of a keel and several boards that covered the hull, held together by thousands of pegs inserted into sheave slots cut into the thickness of the boards,” according to artdaily.org. “Around forty transverse ribs are present, some of which were attached to the keel with metallic pins.”
The ground in which the vessel was discovered is permanently waterlogged, which prevented the timber from rotting and decomposing, Le Monde reported. In addition, sprinklers have been used to keep the ship’s remnants moist since it was found.
It is believed the vessel, which was probably about 72 feet long and about 20 feet across, sank in the second or third century.
“It has a typical Greco-Roman flat-bottomed design,” Boetto says, with a hold 10 feet deep and a square sail to drive it, suspended from a mast.
While no cargo has been found amid the ruins of the merchant vessel, one of the more interesting discoveries has been a small 6-inch brush that appears to have been dropped by a shipwright during the caulking of the hull, according to Le Monde.
Boetto said that a ship of this vintage could carry about 100 tons, relatively small compared to other vessels of the era.
As for its cargo, that will likely remain a mystery, the publication added. However, there is speculation that had the ship sank when it was sailing from Antipolis it was likely loaded with garum, a fermented fish sauce for which the city was famous.
The remains of the ship, which will be donated to Antibes by the state, will be dismantled and the timber treated for lasting conservation.
“Just the process of treating the timber will take two years,” says Jean-Louis Andral, head of the Antibes museum. “Then the wreck will be reconstituted and set up in a center for study and preservation, where it can also be seen by the general public.”
The process should take three to four years.
(HT: A Blog About History)