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Ancient Roman Shipwreck

Ancient Roman Shipwreck May Contain 2,000-Year-Old Food

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A 2,000-year-old shipwreck buried in mud off the coast of Varazze in Italy contains sealed clay amphorae which may still hold preserved food items.

Police divers identified the shipwreck 50 metres underwater after local fishermen reported finding numerous pieces of old pottery in their nets. 

"This is an exceptional find.  Now, our goal is to preserve the ship and keep thieves out. We are executing surveys and excavations to study the contents of the boat, which is perfectly intact,” said Lt. Col. Francesco Schilardi, commander of the police diving team that found the shipwreck.

The wreck was found buried in mud, which kept it hidden for centuries, but also helped to preserve it and its cargo, including a number of clay jars known as amphorae.  The clay amphorae have now been brought to the surface for analysis, but they still have intact caps of pine and pitch (a kind of tar), giving archaeologists hope that the contents are still preserved.

"There are some broken jars around the wreck, but we believe that most of the amphorae inside the ship are still sealed and food-filled," said Schilardi.

In recent years, scientists have had considerable success in recovering well-preserved artefacts from shipwrecks by using sophisticated technologies like remote operating vehicles, sonar mapping equipment and genetic analysis.  Findings have included an ancient salad dressing (olive oil flavoured with oregano) found in a 2,400-year-old shipwreck off the Greek island of Chios, and 2,000-year-old Roman pills found in a shipwreck off the coast of Tuscany which are thought to have been used as eye medicine.

The area of Varazze was part of an ancient trading route along the Italian peninsula, France and Spain, and it is hoped that the latest discovery will help archaeologists learn about ancient trading and the lives of everyday people throughout the Mediterranean region.

By April Holloway

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