Hundreds of Roman Wine Amphorae Found in Underwater Cave
Marine archaeologists have made an amazing discovery in an underwater cave in the Spanish Balearic Islands. They found a large number of amphorae in the cave, which were apparently deliberately deposited in the cavern. The reason for this is a mystery but one possible explanation is that they were left there as part of some ancient ritual.
Marine archaeologists made the discovery in the Fuente de Ses Aiguades Cave, which is off the coast of north-east Majorca, also known as Mallorca, the largest island of the Balearic Islands. The cave was first explored in 1998 and it was last investigated in 2000. Recently, members of the ‘Underwater Archaeological Research in the Caves of Mallorca’ used the latest technology to re-examine the cave.
Underwater Cave Full of Amphorae
The cave is “around 591 feet (180 meters) long and full of stalactites and many air chambers” according to the Daily Mail. There are several vertical shafts in the cave and they can only be reached using a system of pulleys. The team needed scanning technology to “fully understand the cave's layout” reported the Daily Mail.
The marine archaeologists used 3-D scanning to map the cave and they uncovered a treasure trove of amphorae. They uncovered approximately 200 ancient amphorae in the cave. These were two-handled ceramic containers that were used to store produce such as olive oil and wine.
Amphorae have been used for this purpose since the Neolithic period. These vessels almost certainly date to the Roman period, when international maritime trade flourished.
Mr. Fumes an archaeologist who worked on the project told the Daily Mail that “ships used to anchor off the island to gather freshwater before going on their way”. It is likely that the amphorae were left by sailors in the cave. It is believed that ships continued to stop at the island for water until the 19th century.
Representation of the amphorae discovered in the underwater caves. Source: volkan / Adobe Stock.
Were the Amphorae Used As Ritual Offerings?
It was a puzzle as to why so many amphorae had been left in the cave as they would have been quite valuable in Roman times. Mr. Fumás is quoted by Cream Magazine as saying: “The mystery lies in why there are so many amphorae. It is not normal. One could fall, when the pulley broke, but not 200.”
The most likely explanation is that the amphorae were deliberately left in the cave, as part of some ritual or ceremony. Most likely they were left there as offerings.
The Daily Mail quotes the archaeologist as saying that “the water in the cave is 50 feet (14 meters) deep, half is freshwater, and the rest is saltwater, and they do not meet”. This is unusual and convinced many locals that the cave was special and had some association with the divine.
Cream Magazine reports Mr. Fumás as saying that this “makes us think the place was used for religious rituals by sailors”. The amphorae were probably left in the cave to win the favor of some god, so that the sailors could have a safe voyage. In the Roman period, traveling by sea was quite dangerous as it is evidenced by the many shipwrecks found in the Mediterranean.
The coat of Majorca, where the amphorae were discovered. (sladky / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Extinct Animal Remains Also Found
Apart from the amphorae, the remains of extinct animals have also been found. These bones are believed to be the remains of the extinct Myotragus or Balearic Islands cave goat. The Myotragus has been extinct for approximately 5,000 years. The presence of the goat bones would indicate that they inhabited the cave before it was used by humans. Therefore, the cave was formed naturally and was not the result of human action.
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Myotragus remains were also found in the cave along with the amphorae. (Archaeodontosaurus / CC BY-SA 3.0)
In a previous expedition to the cave, marine archaeologists found amphorae from Roman times right up to the 19th century. The latest discoveries will be compared to these and be studied further by specialists. It is believed that the team will publish the results of their investigation later this year.
Top image: Divers exploring the underwater caves where the amphorae were found. (SONARS / Facebook)
By Ed Whelan