A Roman merchant ship and its amphorae cargo have been found lying at the bottom of Ionian Sea, the eastern Mediterranean, around 2,000 years after it sank.
A team of underwater archaeologists and divers from the University of Patras and the Aquatic Scuba Diving Club discovered the ancient shipwreck in 2013 during a high-resolution sidescan sonar survey.
“Marine geophysical data collected during an underwater natural and cultural heritage assessment survey along the coastal zone of Kefallinia Island in the Ionian Sea showed among other seafloor features, the presence of a Roman shipwreck and its amphorae cargo on the seafloor,” said Dr. Xenophontas Dimas from the University of Patras and colleagues.
The Roman merchant ship, which was 34 m (112 feet) long and 13 m (43 feet) wide, was carrying about 6,000 large amphorae.
The archaeologists found an oval-shaped pile of the ship’s cargo, which is in very good state of preservation, and individual amphorae lying on the seafloor.
The pile is about 30 m (98 feet) long, 12 m (39 feet) wide and about 1.3 m (4.3 feet) high on the seafloor. The amphorae are about 0.8-0.9 m (2.6-3 feet) high and 0.4 m (1.3 feet) wide.
“The elongated oval shaped mound of amphorae on the seafloor displayed on the sidescan sonar record and the photomosaic resembles the outline of ships of that period, as defined by the ship’s side rail,” the scientists said.
“This indicates that the cargo has kept the outline of the ship and along with the almost flat and gently sloping seafloor that prevails around the shipwreck suggest that the ship sank very slowly in an up-right position and came to rest on its keel and then gradually tipped to one side with the hull keeping its overall structure, intact.”
“The above allow us to speculate that the ship sank in good weather conditions rather than in stormy weather.”
Based on the type of the amphorae, the shipwreck is dated between 1st century BCE and 1st century CE and is one of the largest found so far in the Mediterranean Sea, for that period.
“The ‘Fiscardo’ shipwreck can be listed as one of the largest four found in the Mediterranean Sea and more specifically, the largest found to date in the eastern Mediterranean Sea,” the researchers said.
“Its cargo is estimated at about 6,000 amphorae, which are still in very good condition.”
“The presence of the ‘Fiscardo’ shipwreck off the present-day Fiscardo fishing port, where relicts, dating to Roman times between 146 BCE and 330 CE, were recently found, indicate that Fiscardo was an important port at that time.”
The team’s paper appears in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
George Ferentinos et al. 2020. Optimal sidescan sonar and subbottom profiler surveying of ancient wrecks: The ‘Fiskardo’ wreck, Kefallinia Island, Ionian Sea. Journal of Archaeological Science 113: 105032; doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2019.105032
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