Sunday, October 30, 2005


Sailing event spotlights Ancient Roman wrecks

October 28, 2005

Archaeologists in this western Sicilian city are hoping that a modern sailing event could help them unlock some of the underwater secrets of the island's maritime past.

The highly publicized pre-America's Cup Louis Vuitton series, the final chapters of which were staged off the coast here prior to the winter break, helped spotlight an area that is home to numerous wrecks of archaeological value.

Dozens of ancient vessels are still lying unsalvaged on the seabed, in part, due to a lack of funds .Among the wrecks are a group that sank over 2,200 years ago during the Punic Wars, in a landmark battle between the Romans and the Carthaginians that shaped history.

The wild weather sunk 70 Carthaginian vessels and 30 Roman ones and despite some archaeological plundering in the 1970s, numerous finds are still waiting to be rescued from their resting place.

Around 60 amphorae lie scattered on the seabed, at least one of which still marked with its 2,000-year-old label. The wine was made by the Papia family from Campania, and was exported throughout the Mediterranean.

As well as the Roman ship remains and the amphorae, there are also invaluable discoveries to be made in wrecks from other periods.

"One of the most momentous finds we have made so far is a pewter flask, which still contained wine that was 600 years old," said Sebastiano Tusa, a leading Italian archaeologist and Sicily's Sea Superintendent.

"This is one of the most ancient existing sample of wine still in liquid form." Experts believe the seabed in the area is littered with such important items but excavation projects have been continually hampered by a lack of cash.

Local authorities are now hoping that the recent sailing event will generate enough tourism and investments to help draw attention to a new archaeological initiative that could turn the situation around.

"We're hoping to be able to tap the enormous popularity created by the Louis Vuitton Cup in the area, in part to promote an enormous museum complex being built," said Trapani Cultural Heritage Superintendent Giuseppe Gini.

The museum is being developed inside a renovated building on the nearby Aegadian island of Favignana.

It will provide a home for finds that have already been rescued, as well as items that experts hope to bring to the surface over coming years.

Although the complex won't be finished until 2008, it forms part of a broader drive to make the most of the area's historical maritime heritage, including a new period of salvage work and real-time film transmissions from one of the ships.

"The museum will eventually host a room with screens entirely dedicated to the wonders of the seabed," said Tusa.

"Visitors will be able to admire the archaeological remains of a Roman relic dating back to the 1st century AD, which sank near Cala Minnula on Levanza," another one of the Aegadian islands.

A number of cameras will be set up around the ship, which sank to 27 meters' depth with a cargo of the popular Roman fish paste, garum, on board. Images from the site will then be broadcast live to the control centre.

The cameras will start transmitting in November. Their images will initially go a small existing museum on Favignana, and later to an expanded, modernized complex that is being developed.


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