Savvy Sonar Tech Uncovers Enormous Roman Shipwreck Off Greece
Sonar technology has been used to identify one of the biggest Roman shipwreck ever found in the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that the vessel lay at the bottom of the seabed for 2000 years.
The wreck was located off the Greek island of Kefalonia, between 2013 and 2014 during “an underwater natural and cultural heritage assessment survey,” reports the Journal of Archaeological Science. It was found not far from the fishing port of Fiskardo. The shipwreck has been named after the village as it is now called the ‘Fiskardo shipwreck’.
Savvy Sonar Technology
During the survey, side-scan sonar detection technology was used by a Greek team to identify the ancient vessel on the seabed. This form of sonar technology can generate images of the seafloor, and it “works by beaming out high-frequency sound pulses in a wide fan shape from a boat floating on the surface,” reports The Daily Mail. When these pulses strike objects on the floor, they provide data that can be used to create a model of the seabed.
his type of sonar technology can differentiate shipwrecks from other objects and features, even if they have similar sonic signatures, which means that it’s very popular with marine archaeologists. The Greek team also found two World War II wrecks in the same general area, which evidences the effectiveness of the technology used.
High resolution seafloor sonar image showing: the cargo outline of the Roman shipwreck and individual amphorae lying on a muddy sand seafloor. (Ionian Aquarium)
Based on the position of the Roman vessel on the seafloor, it sank in an upright position. According to the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers speculate “that the ship sank in good weather conditions rather than in stormy weather." The reasons for the sinking of the vessel are somewhat mysterious.
One of the Largest Wrecks Ever Discovered
Researchers were able to determine that the Roman shipwreck is in relatively good condition. It is believed to date roughly from the time of Jesus Christ, which is between the first century BC and the first century AD. The study has calculated that the vessel is about 110 feet long (32m) and is 40 feet wide (13m). Its cargo load was 99 feet by 38 feet (32m by 14m). According to The Daily Mail, the researchers who made the discovery believe that “it is one of the four largest ever found in the Mediterranean Sea.”
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Side-scan sonar imaging of the Roman shipwreck on the seabed. (Ionian Aquarium)
There are plans to excavate the wreck. According to the Greek City Times, the lead researcher on the project Giorgos Ferendinos, of the University of Patra, stated that “the ship is half-buried in the sediment, so we have high expectations that if we go to an excavation in the future, we will find part or the whole wooden hull.” This could provide a great many insights into Roman shipping and shipbuilding. It could tell us where it was built, how often it was repaired and what materials it was made from.
Thousands of Amphorae Uncovered
Literally thousands of pots, that are known as amphorae, were discovered in and around the Roman shipwreck. These are earthenware jug-shaped containers, which could store both dry and liquid goods, and had two handles. They were widely used in the classical period, and once they were sealed could transport a variety of goods, including wine, great distances. Amphorae have been frequently found in various shipwrecks.
Based on the dimensions of the ship there were an estimated 6000 amphorae on the seabed. Ships of this size typically carried huge cargoes of these containers. The Journal of Archaeological Science reports that based on the height of the hold that “the amphorae were probably stowed in five layers in the ship's hull.”
The Roman shipwreck’s cargo, estimated to be 6000 amphorae. (Ionian Aquarium)
Roman Shipwreck Provides New Insights
The discovery of such a large vessel indicates that the small fishing village of Fiscardo was once an important commercial port. Recent archaeological finds suggests that it was a sizeable town in the classical era. The Journal of Archaeological Science states that “houses, bath complexes, a theatre, a cemetery and a tomb, dating to Roman times between 146 BC and 330 AD were recently found,” near the modern sleepy fishing port.
The discovery of the amphorae could reveal a lot about Roman trade in the early Empire. The contents of the containers could tell us what was traded and the origin of the products. This can help researchers to better understand the nature of the Roman trade networks that once crisscrossed the Mediterranean.
This discovery of the wreck was a first, because unlike others it was found without the assistance of divers and this may open a new chapter in marine archaeology. Concerns have been expressed by the team who found the wreck that it’s very vulnerable because the small fishing port has become popular with yachts in recent years. The findings of the study on the Roman shipwreck are published in full in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Top image: The amphorae cargo found at the Roman shipwreck off Kefalonia. Source: Ionian Aquarium
By Ed Whelan