2,000-year-old amphorae with fish recovered from the sunken Roman ship in the Formigues Islands

2,000-year-old amphorae with fish recovered from the sunken Roman ship in the Formigues Islands

Archaeologists have recovered amphorae ago 2,000 years with remains of salaons and have made a unique find in the second sunken roman ship to them Ant Islands. The fact that the ship’s wood has been preserved over the centuries has made it possible to locate what is known in naval architecture as Jupiter’s beam. A system to join the keel with the stern and bow wheel where the timbers make a zigzag, recreating the attribute that represented the god of gods. The one of the Ants II has been found in Very good condition. To delve deeper into the history of this ship from the 1st century BC and learn how archaeologists work there, the Museum of Archeology of Catalonia (MAC) has recreated its sinking in 3D in the exhibition ‘Shipwrecks. Submerged history’.

The seabed of the Formigues Islands, in the Baix Empordà, treasures two ships from the Roman period. The first, named as Ants Itransported vi and dates from the middle of the first century BC. The other derelict, the Ants IIsank in this same place a few years later, during a storm that threw the ship against the archipelago.

This vessel, built during the last quarter of the first century BC, not only preserves the loading of amphorae; the seabed that has protected it for more than two millennia has also preserved it wood of the ship Transported let’s go i fish sauces coming from Baetica – today’s Andalusia – and surely, their port of destination was that of Arles or Narbonne.

Formigues II has become the first underwater site in the Peninsula located at depth that is excavated using scientific methodology. In other words, not only surveys or systematic extractions have been done; despite being almost 50 meters deep, archaeologists work there as if they were on dry land. But with all the handicaps of what it means to do it under water.

Campaign after campaign, archaeologists have discovered the secrets of Formigues II. “We have to keep in mind the depth at which the site is located; this makes the work very slow and we still have a lot to learn about this ship,” the head of the Underwater Archeology Center explains to ACN of Catalonia (CASC), Rut Geli.

This year, the excavation has focused on the aft part of the wreck. And it was here when, after removing the amphorae and leaving the ship’s wood exposed, archaeologists were able to study part of its naval architecture. They have located the base of one of the struts that held up the roof of the ship and, above all, they have made a unique discovery: the ray of Jupiter. “It is a very elaborate and solid union, which joins the keel, the main longitudinal axis of the boat, with the stern wheel”, specifies Geli.

To get the two woods to end up melting into one, they fit together by means of a zigzag. This is precisely where this system of naval construction takes its name from (because the shape recalls the lightning that identified the father of the ancient gods).

Coin as an offering

That the Romans used this system in their shipyards was already known. Other Jupiter rays have been found in wrecks in the Mediterranean, but the one from Formigues II is unique because it is in a very good state of preservation. As Geli points out, in addition, “it will have its own characteristics that we must study, since this joining system is not always exactly the same”.

Rut Geli also explains that sometimes, when fitting the beam of Jupiter, “a votive coin was placed in the middle of this union, an offering to invoke good luck during navigation”. And precisely, discovering whether the Ants II carried one or not is what has been left pending for a future campaign. “We will know this in 2023”, specifies the archaeologist at the ACN.

Sorrel, mackerel and bonito in brine

Coin or not, during that storm the gods were not propitious and the ship ended up sinking. But now, 2,000 years later, the remains of that shipwreck are resurfacing. To the amphorae that the CASC archaeologists had already recovered from the bottom of the sea, in this last campaign they have added 25 more complete ones (leaving aside the fragments that they have also extracted from the depths).

All were stowed at the stern and did not carry fish sauce, but brine. They are Betic amphorae of the Dressel 7 and 10 type. Inside, mixed among the sediments, scales and remains of fish have been found. As specified by the head of the CASC, her study has made it possible to document “that some amphorae contained salted sorrel, others mackerel and there are still others that seem to have contained bonito”.

Here, ichthyofauna studies, and also paleobotany, will help to know what the amphorae contained. In fact, a unique find has already been made in the Formigues II in the Mediterranean. Because last year, for the first time, it was documented that the amphorae were coated with cistus or black steppe resin (instead of pine resin). An aromatic shrub highly valued in Antiquity for making perfumes or medicines, but whose use to preserve food was also unknown.

The shipwreck, in 3D

Beyond research, archeology is also dissemination. And precisely, the Museum of Archeology of Catalonia (MAC) delves into the world of underwater deposits through the exhibition ‘Shipwrecks. Submerged history’. In the exhibition, which will last throughout 2023 and which can be seen at the museum’s headquarters in Barcelona, ​​the Formigues II takes center stage.

Thanks to new technologies, the MAC has recreated in three dimensions what it was like to sink the ship. The video shows how the ship crashes against the rocks of the archipelago during a storm, how it sinks and how it was deposited at the bottom until archaeologists arrived at the site in 2016.

“The information we’ve been collecting over the years has helped us do this recreation,” explains one of the CASC’s underwater archaeologists, Joan Mayoral. “The images show more or less the dimensions and shape that the ship would have, and as a result of a storm coming from the north, the ship was pushed against one of the islets by the storm,” he adds.

The 3D reconstruction is complemented by images from the underwater excavations, and with amphorae recovered from the seabed (which can be seen in situ in the museum room). Formigues II, however, is not the only emblematic site on display.

‘Shipwrecks História submergida’ also recreates the sinkings and the archaeological campaigns that have been carried out at two other wrecks. The Deltebre I, a 19th-century transport ship that sank in the Ebro delta during the French War, and the Culip IV, a Roman ship discovered in Cap de Creus in 1984 (and which became se in the first underwater site of the Peninsula to be excavated by a team of archaeologists using scientific methodology and in a complete way).

The exhibition also delves into the history of underwater archeology in Catalonia and exhibits a selection of more than 200 objects from the excavations carried out by the CASC over the last three decades. Some of them, unpublished. The scenography of the exhibition, which occupies 1,000 square meters of the MAC headquarters, evokes precisely a seabed. “What we want is for it to be immersive, for the viewer to enter the world of underwater archeology and discover it,” concludes Joan Mayoral.

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