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Sunken haul of Roman fish sauce found off Italy

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient Roman vessel laden with 3000 jars of delicious Roman fish sauce – or garum – on the seabed off the coast of Italy.

Sunken haul of Roman fish sauce found off Italy
A large Roman ship that sank full of fish sauce has been discovered of Italy's coast. Photo:Boris Horvat/AFP

The find was presented on Thursday by archaeologists, who spent almost two years searching for the 25-meter wreck in the deep blue waters five miles of the coast of Alassio, in the northeastern Liguria region.

“It's an exceptional find that dates to the first or second century AD,” Dr. Simon Luca Trigona, who led the team, told The Local. 

“It's one of just five 'deep sea' Roman vessels ever to be found in the Mediterranean and the first one to be found off the coast of Liguria. We know it was carrying a large cargo of garum when it sank.” 

The presence of an ancient vessel on the seabed was signalled to archaeologists in 2012, when local fisherman dredged up fragments of some clay jars that had been part of the vessel's payload 2000 years ago.

In spite of the presence of a ship being known, locating the actual wreck was the fruit of a painstaking search. The Roman cargo ship was buried at a depth of 200 meters and underwater archaeologists spent two years scouring the seabed before they finally located it in October.

In spite of the mystery that usually surrounds ancient shipwrecks, it is almost certain that the ship was sailing a route between Italy, Spain and Portugal in order to transport a precious cargo of Roman garum. The clue lies in the shape of the clay jars, as the sauce itself has all since seeped into the sea.

“After we filmed the wreck and analyzed an amphora [clay jar] and some fragments that a robotic craft brought back to the surface, we realized the ship was carrying a huge quantity of fish sauce when it sank,” said Trigona

“The amphora are almost all of a certain type, which was used exclusively for garum.”

Garum – a sauce made by fermenting salted fish intestines – was a mainstay of banqueting tables and street food stands across the Roman empire.

The sauce was highly prized for its nutritional qualities and was also a rich source of monosodium glutamate – a compound widely used in the food industry today as a flavour enhancer.

In addition to the fish sauce, archaeologists also identified two types of jar which were only manufactured in the area around the river Tiber in Rome. It is thought they were probably being used to transport some of the area's excellent regional wines to the Iberian peninsular.

“It's a nice find because it means we are almost sure about the route this ship was on,” Trugona said.

“She most likely sailed out of Rome along the Tiber and sank a couple of weeks later while making the return journey, weighed down by all that fish sauce.”

For now, no further analysis of the wreck is planned and Trigona called for vigilance in order to protect the sunken cargo from would-be looters.

“At 200 meters nobody will be able to dive it but that won't stop people trying to pull things up using deep sea fishing nets.”
 

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HISTORY

Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

Pompeii archaeologists said Saturday they have unearthed the remains of a "slave room" in an exceptionally rare find at a Roman villa destroyed by Mount Vesuvius' eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists in Pompeii who discovered a room which likely housed slaves. 
Archaeologists said the newly-discovered room in Pompeii likely housed slaves charged with maintaining chariots.  Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.

An almost intact ornate Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves charged with maintaining and prepping the chariot.

READ ALSO: 8 things you probably didn’t know about the Romans

“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite,” said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived… is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.

Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.

The 16-square metre (170-square feet) room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child sized – there were eight amphorae, stashed in a corner.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.

The remains of three horses were found in a stable in a dig earlier this year.

“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the room,” the Pompeii archaeological park said.

READ ALSO: Four civilizations in Italy that pre-date the Roman Empire

Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

Experts had been able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects in perishable materials which left their imprint in the cinerite — the rock made of volcanic ash — that covered them, it said.

The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.

The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets.

While two were around 1.7 metres long, one measured just 1.4 metres, and may therefore have belonged to a child.

The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family.

Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including amphorae for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot.

The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces or wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.

“This incredible new discovery at Pompeii demonstrates that today the archaeological site has become not only one of the most desirable visitor destinations in the world, but also a place where research is carried out and new and experimental technologies are employed,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

“Thanks to this important new discovery, our knowledge of the daily life of ancient Pompeians has been enriched, particularly of that element of society about which little is known even today. Pompeii is a model of study that is unique in the world.”

READ ALSO: Why is Italy called Italy?

The excavation is part of a programme launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.

The Villa of Civita Giuliana had been the target of systematic looting for years. There was evidence some of the “archaeological heritage” in this so-called Slave Room had also been lost to looters, the park said.

Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost two million euros ($2.3 million), it added.

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