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: Archaeologists working on the remains of the Iberian wreck Cala Cativa I.

Experts Investigate a Long Forgotten Iberian Ship that Sank off the Spanish Coast

Before the Romans set foot on the Iberian Peninsula, it was inhabited by pre-Roman people, with one of the most important groups of the time being the Iberians. Organized into tribes, the Iberians built their villages on higher ground and surrounded themselves within fortifications to protect against possible enemy invasions.

Farming was the basis of their economy, with the primary products being olives, wheat, grapes, and honey. They also used oxen as draft animals, horses for battle, and sheep and pigs for food and clothing. The Iberians were great craftsmen, as seen in the jewelry, weapons, ceramics, and textiles that have survived to the present. Finally, they were skilled sculptors: The Lady of Elche  is a clear example of this.

The Lady of Elche, one of the finer sculptures from the Iberian culture of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Lady of Elche, one of the finer sculptures from the Iberian culture of the Iberian Peninsula. (Alberto Salguero /  CC BY-SA 3.0  )

Now, a new underwater research project in the northern part of  Cape Creus , (Costa Brava) Catalonia, Spain seems to confirm that, in addition, the Iberians were a seafaring culture.

A Second Wreck Full of Ancient Amphorae

Under the coastal waters of El Port de la Selva, next to Catalonia's Costa Brava, lie the remains of a boat barely 10 meters (32.8 feet) long. The wreckage has been dated to approximately 40-30 BC and was carrying a hundred wine amphorae towards Narbonne.

According to the newspaper  El Pais , experts from the  Centre d’Arqueologia Subaquàtica de Catalunya (CASC) , have been able to date the boat thanks to, among other things, the artifacts discovered. Thus, they have determined that the  Cala Cativa I  is the second wreck studied in full, following the  Cap de Vol : another ship loaded with amphorae of wine that spent over 2,000 years under the waters of the Catalan coast and which had also been built, most likely, with Iberian techniques.

Last month, archaeologists submerged themselves to the sandy bottom, more than 30 meters (98.4 feet) below water, to examine the wreck of Cala Cativa I. There they sifted through the thousands of fragments of the hundreds of amphorae (that would have carried about 22 liters (5.8 gallons) of wine each). They also found seven meters (23 feet) of wooden hull, keel, and frames - with the same construction previously found in the Cap de Vol.

Photo from the archaeological research carried out some years before on the wreck Cap de Vol.

Photo from the archaeological research carried out some years before on the wreck Cap de Vol. ( National Geographic Spain / CESC )

The director of Centre d’Arqueologia Subaquàtica de Catalunya (CASC),  Gustau Vivar  and his team in a statement to El País news said that the fact that the Cala Cativa I is smaller than the Cap de Vol:

"also reinforces the idea that these ships are from here, for such a small boat could not be from elsewhere if it came to this coast for trade. This small size is the perfect link that we needed to defend our theory. The importance of Cala Cativa I and the Cap de Vol is that they show that there was a progression for the relationship of the Iberian culture with the sea: this is the beginning of the production of this wine that came from the area of the Baix Llobregat, of Badalona (Baetulo), and Mataro (Iluro) and went to Narbonne; It is the beginning of the wine trade. "

Experts believe that they will likely discover more wrecks with this Iberian construction system based on flat boats since the Catalan coast of the past was not like the present: it had marshes and lagoons, and boats of this type could pass from the Mediterranean to freshwater without having to change vessels.  

A Tough Campaign and Pioneering New Technology

It has not been an easy year: the great depth has forced scientists to perform decompression 20 minutes per half-hour immersion in the Mediterranean waters. However, thanks to the collaboration of the Department of Anthropology at the  University of Southern California , CASC archaeologists are using several iPads inside watertight boxes to work while on the seabed. The University of Southern California has provided this material to enable on site drawings of the wreck’s features.

The Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California has contributed some iPads in watertight boxes with which scientists can draw underwater in real time.

The Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California has contributed some iPads in watertight boxes with which scientists can draw underwater in real time. (Photo:  Espejo Navegantes / ABC )

Furthermore, the presence of the submarine  Ictineu 3  has further facilitated the dives, according to the newspaper ABC  and the nautical archeology blog "Espejo Navegantes" .

This is a breakthrough for Spanish archeology, as the new Ictineu is the first submarine built in Catalonia since the last two Ictineus built by the scientist and engineer Narcís Monturiol  in 1859 and 1864.

Replica of the submarine Ictineu I (1859) by Narcís Monturiol at the entrance to the Maritime Museum in Barcelona.

Replica of the submarine Ictineu I (1859) by Narcís Monturiol at the entrance to the Maritime Museum in Barcelona.  (Gepardenforellenfischer /  CC BY-SA 2.5 )

The device is a great piece of technology that so far seems to be an ideal choice for the study and conservation of marine ecosystems and underwater archaeological heritage.

The submarine Ictineu 3 along with the remains of Cala Cativa I.

The submarine Ictineu 3 along with the remains of Cala Cativa I. ( Espejo Navegantes / ABC )

History of the discovery

The Cala Cativa I was first discovered 121 years ago by Romuald Alfaras, a resident of El Port de la Selva and clear precursor of underwater archeology. According Gustau Vivar "With what he knew and with the means at his disposal, surely he was a pioneer."

In August 1894, after recovering about sixty amphorae from the seabed, Alfaras wrote a paper describing his experience in the Boletín de la Asociación artístico-arqueológica barcelonesa (Bulletin of the Barcelona artistic and archaeological Association.) In that article Alfaras recalled a childhood memory: a fisherman from the village, after checking that it contained no treasure, gave his grandfather an amphora that had been attached to his hook by the handle.

Alfaras then spoke with divers and fishermen and hired three of them. He invited them to attend the expedition of two artist friends who vacationed in the town. One of them, Frederic Mares, partially financed the expedition in exchange for a share in some of the discovery/treasure

Cala Cativa, under whose waters are the remains of the wreck discovered over a century ago by the resident of El Port de la Selva, Romuald Alfaras.

Cala Cativa, under whose waters are the remains of the wreck discovered over a century ago by the resident of El Port de la Selva, Romuald Alfaras. ( Municipality of El Port de la Selva )

On August 22, 1894 the team sailed from the port, and for two days, equipped with diving suits and ropes of straw and hemp, they pulled amphorae of different shapes and sizes from the water. In total they recovered 62, of which about 40 were almost in perfect state. Today these archaeological treasures are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia and the Museu Frederic Mares .

In 1895, Alfaras wanted to return to the wreck. However, the Maritime Command had learned of the last discovery he made and told him that he should sell whatever he found and share the profit equally with the owner of "land" – i.e. the state. Alfaras flatly refused and the wreck was forgotten until now, when more than a century later, it is making history again.

Featured image: Archaeologists working on the remains of the Iberian wreck Cala Cativa I. ( Espejo Navegantes / ABC )

This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es/ and has been translated with permission.

By: Mariló TA

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