Sunday, December 09, 2007


Roman barge under Cologne to reveal shipping history

December 09, 2007

Cologne, Germany - Excited archaeologists are raising part of a Roman barge that sank near the wharf nearly 2,000 years ago in the German riverside city of Cologne. Cologne, which derives its modern name from the town's Latin name, Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, is full of Roman remains including a largely intact aqueduct.

But the oaken boat, found 12 metres below the surface during excavations a few days ago for an underground mass-transit line, is something special, offering scientists a new window into life in this cold northern Roman province.

A piece of the vessel's flat bottom, about 8 square metres in size, with huge iron nails poking out of it, is still in the mud between modern building machinery and materials.

"We archaeologists are sparing with the word 'sensational'," said the city's top official for subsurface history, Gerd Hellenkemper, as he showed it to the media. "Let's just say everyone wants to know more about this.

"There's a genuine possibility this could turn out to be the oldest Roman transport vessel left in central Europe.

"It's an exciting find that will tell us a lot about the history of boatbuilding and transport."

The Rhine river was the main highway of the Roman province and the boat's site was a river port.

University of Cologne have already been counting tree rings and have dated samples from the oak, establishing that the tree began its growth in 142 BC. "That does not tell us when the barge was built though," said Hellenkemper.

"The evidence so far is that the tree grew in the highlands east of Cologne, so it seems plausible the barge was built here."

The entire flat-bottomed vessel, a standard Roman type, would have been 22 to 23 metres long and would have had a beam of 3.5 metres and a capacity of 20 to 30 tons, suitable for cattle, stone and bricks, firewood or construction timber.

"Whether it had a mast and was wind-powered, we just don't know," the archaeologist said.

The piece of ship is to be raised in four sections and stored in fluid, with restoration scheduled by 2011.

Unfortunately a foundation trench for the rail line has already been cut through part of the ship and filled with concrete.

"We are absolutely sure the rest of the barge is in the ground on the other side of the concrete," said another archaeologist, Rudolf Nehren, wistfully. "But it could be many long years before we figure out how to get the rest of it out."


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