Marine archeologists have discovered four ancient trading vessels dating from the first century BC to the 5th through 7th centuries AD in the waters of the Pontine Islands. Their cargoes were found to be intact.
Italian culture authorities and the Aurora Trust, a U.S. foundation which promotes underwater exploration in the Mediterranean, discovered four shipwrecks, up to 18 meters long, at a depth of between 100-150 meters.
Annalisa Zarattini, an underwater archaeologist with Italy’s culture ministry, says the deeper a wreck is found, the higher the chance that it is better preserved. These, she adds, are in such good condition after so many centuries because they have not been disturbed by fishermen or illegal archaeology hunters.
The ships cargoes were found completely intact. In their wealth of amphorae, the vessels carried goods from North Africa, Italy and Spain. These included wine, olive oil, fruit and garum, a pungent fish sauce used in Roman cooking. One of the main concerns archaeologists have is that these treasures may be illegally lifted from where they have been found. To prevent any illegal activities, finance police naval units patrol the waters.
“We identified four Roman wrecks, four ships that probably sunk during a storm at different time periods,” Ms. Zarattini added.
Zarattini says Italy’s seas are an incredible museum which help uncover history. In Roman times, the Pontine islands belonged to Emperor Augustus.
"This area was a crossroads in the Mediterranean, with a secure port that the emperor had built and where crews on the vessels knew they could take refuge during storms,” she added.
Italy recently signed a new agreement with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) requiring that the wrecks remain in their place. The country has 7,500 kilometers of coastline and many more treasures are believed to remain undiscovered. Culture authorities say they have plans for further exploration. They believe the wrecks will be a huge draw for tourists. As technology improves, they say, ordinary people, and not just expert scuba divers, will be able to go down and see the remains for themselves.
Ventotene Islands, Italy Project
In March 2008, Aurora and the Superintendence of Lazio (on behalf of the Ministry of Culture) signed a Memorandum of Understanding highlighting various avenues of cooperation in the field of underwater archaeology. Following discussions with Dssa Annalisa Zarattini, superintendent responsible for the underwater archaeology in the Lazio region, it was agreed that the focus of the project would be the Pontine Islands, specifically the islands of Ventotene and Santo Stefano where the remains of numerous Roman shipwrecks have been noted. These include the wreck of a vessel carrying ancient ivory furniture and another that was transporting huge earthen jars called dolia.
Pontine Island, Zannone 2010