Skeletons of five ancient Roman shipwrecks that sailed over 2200 years ago and sank off the coast of Italy during the height of the Roman Empire were discovered last week. The ships are submerged between 330 to 490 feet off Ventotene, a tiny island that is part of an archipelago off Italy’s west coast between Rome and Naples. At the time the island was the first Roman Emperor Augustus’ seaside resort.
The ships, which date to 300 B.C. to 100 B.C, tell much about ancient trade around the Roman Empire. Terracotta containers, pots, and vases and other cargo was found mostly intact. The cargo would have contained wine, olive oil, kitchen tools, glass objects, and other products typically traded among the vast empire. The ancient Roman Empire spanned from today’s Italy to Africa and the Middle East.
The spot was highly trafficked, and hit by frequent storms and dangerous sea currents.
The discovery is part of a new drive by archaeological officials to scan deeper levels of the sea and prevent looting of submerged treasures.
Discoveries of shipwrecks are not unusual in the Mediterranean. These ships are far better preserved than most because the ships sank at a deeper lever than most known wrecks. At that depth they were not exposed to destructive underwater currents.
The ships also sank without capsizing, allowing researchers to observe their cargo largely as it had been loaded, Zarattini said.
“It is like an underwater museum,” Italy’s cultural minister Zarattini said. The finding also sheds light on the trade routes of ancient Rome, marking the area as a major commercial crossroads, she said.
The ships were found during explorations concluded earlier this month by the ministry and the AURORA Trust, a U.S. group that gathers maritime researchers and provides equipment to explore the sea.
The researchers used sonar technology to provide imagery of the seabed and then employed remotely operated vehicles, the Culture Ministry and the AURORA Trust said.
The oldest of the ships has a cargo of wine amphorae from southern Italy, some stacked in their original position, AURORA said. Another one was carrying moratoria, large bowls used to grind grains. Another was loaded with African amphorae carrying garum, a fish sauce that was a delicacy in ancient Rome.
The largest wreck measures more than 65 feet.
A handful of objects were taken out to be studied and will be put on display in Ventotene.