Divers have unearthed a piece of the ancient Roman Empire from a 2,000-year-old shipwreck located in the dark depths of the Mediterranean.
Submerged 125 metres below sea level off the Italian coast near the Aeolian islands, the wreck had gone undetected for centuries. That is, until highly trained divers from Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) used sonar and a remotely-operated submarine to find the wreckage.
The GUE team stumbled upon what is believed to be the Panarea III, a 50-foot-long wooden vessel likely used as a cargo ship between the ancient cities of Rome and Carthage sometime between 218 and 210 BC. For archaeologists working with the divers, the discovery was “like reaching through a window in time,” said Jarrod Jablonski, one of the divers with the exploration group.
“This shipwreck is a very important occasion to understand more about the daily life on the ancient ship, as well as the real dynamics of ancient trade,” added Sebastiano Tusa, an Italian archaeologist who is studying the site.
Though other shipwrecks can offer such information, the Panarea III is remarkably well preserved. So far researchers have discovered terracotta jars, used to carry wine, scattered across the ocean floors, along with olive oil and other cargo dating back to the height of the Roman Empire.
But bringing these objects to the surface for study wasn’t easy. The divers could only work for 30 minutes at a time before having to make a four-to-five hour ascent to avoid getting the bends.
This problem is what is keeping divers from further exploring another massive shipwreck called “the Titanic of the ancient world,” located off Antikythera Island in southern Greece. Divers exploring that wreck plan to return in the springtime when conditions are supposed to be better.
In the case of the Panarea III vessel, researchers hope data collected from the site can be used by the Italian government and others in the future, and could possibly shed light on who the ship belonged to. So far, possibilities include a wealthy Italian merchant or Claudio Marcello, who in 212 BC used a fleet to conquer the Italian city of Syracuse.