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A Maritime Pompeii

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  • Kim Noyes
    *A Maritime Pompeii* *Pisa is famous for its leaning tower, but archeologists there are now uncovering an amazing fleet of ancient ships, some complete with
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2007
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      A Maritime Pompeii
      Pisa is famous for its leaning tower, but archeologists there are now uncovering an amazing fleet of ancient ships, some complete with crew and cargo.
      By Barbie Nadeau
      Newsweek Web Exclusive
      Updated: 1:06 PM ET Nov 1, 2007

      The San Rossore train station on the edge of Pisa, Italy, is a lonely stop. Tourists who visit this city to see its famous leaning tower generally use the central station across town. But San Rossore is about to be recognized as one of the country's most significant archeological digs. For nearly a decade archeologists have been working near and under the tracks to unearth what is nothing short of a maritime Pompeii.

      So far the excavation has turned up 39 ancient shipwrecks buried under nine centuries of silt, which preserved extraordinary artifacts. The copper nails and ancient wood are still intact, and in many cases cargo is still sealed in the original terra cotta amphorae, the jars used for shipment in the ancient world. They have also found a cask of the ancient Roman fish condiment known as garum and many mariners' skeletons—one crushed under the weight of a capsized ship. One ship carried scores of pork shoulder hams; another carried a live lion, likely en route from Africa to the gladiator fights in Rome.

      What's most dramatic about the discovery of this maritime graveyard is that the ships date from different centuries both before and after the advent of the Christian era, meaning the shipwrecks did not happen simultaneously but over time in the same area. Researchers say that starting around the 6th century B.C. the cargo docks of the port of Pisa were accessed by a canal that made a loop connecting the harbor to the open sea. Every hundred years or so over the course of nearly a thousand years, tsunamilike waves violently flooded the waterway and capsized and buried ships, their cargo and their passengers and crew, alongside uprooted trees and even tiny birds and animals. The 39 shipwrecks, of which 16 have been age-dated and partially or fully excavated so far, date from around the fifth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. Random artifacts, for which the archeologists have not yet found ships, date back even further. "The ships represent life in motion," says Elena Rossi, an archeologist who has worked on the site since it was first discovered. "Some may have foundered, others sunk in storms, and others went to the bottom in a flood."

      The shipwrecks represent a significant piece of a puzzle that archeologists and anthropologists have struggled to understand for centuries. Studying the oldest boats' contents and the way those ships were built, archeologists now better understand just who the Romans and Etruscans traded with and how they lived and utilized the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the oldest ships belonged to the Greeks and the Phoenicians, which implies that the mysterious and little-understood Etruscans were in fact active traders. One ship carried amphorae sealed with sand from both Spain and from the volcanic regions of Campania in Italy, giving scientists vital clues to where these ships traveled.

      For the rest of the article go here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/67475?&GT1=10547

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