Saturday, November 18, 2006

 

Ancient food jars fare well under the sea

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LA Times
November 18, 2006

About 1,500 amphorae are part of the cargo scientists are sorting from a Roman ship that sank 2,000 years ago.

Archeologists have started exploring a sunken 1st century Roman vessel carrying about 1,500 clay amphorae, some still containing nearly 2,000-year-old fish bones nestled inside.

Boaters found its cargo of amphorae in 2000 when their anchor got tangled with one of the two-handled jars.

Exploration of the site a mile off Alicante in southern Spain began in July, said Carles de Juan, a co-director of the project, who works for the Valencia regional government.

The ship, estimated to be 100 feet long with a capacity for about 400 tons of cargo, is twice the size of most other Roman shipwrecks found in the Mediterranean, De Juan said.

The well-preserved clay amphorae were used to hold fish sauce — a prized condiment for wealthy Romans, he said.

For nearly 2,000 years, the 3-foot-tall amphorae lay undisturbed except for the occasional octopus that would pry one open, breaking the ceramic-and-mortar seal in search of food or shelter.

The cargo probably also includes lead, which the Romans used for plumbing, and copper, which they mixed with tin to make bronze for a range of things, including plates and jewelry.

This ship most likely sank in a storm while sailing back to Rome from Cadiz in the south of what is now Spain.

When word of the find first spread in 2000, pirate scuba divers raided the site and stole some of the amphorae. That forced the Valencia government to build a thick metal grating to cover the remains and protect the jars.


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