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Ancient Shipwrecks Found Off Central Italy's Coast

  • Sabina Castelfranco

Newly discovered underwater treasures in the Italian seas near the Pontine Islands

Newly discovered underwater treasures in the Italian seas near the Pontine Islands

A team of marine archeologists using sonar scanners has discovered new underwater treasures in the Italian seas. Trading vessels dating from the first century BC to the 5th through 7th centuries AD were found 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 resting on the seabed. The discovery was made in a beautiful stretch of sea off the tiny rock of Zannone, part of the Pontine Islands in central Italy.

After the discovery, the team of marine archaeologists used sonar scanners for the exploration and filmed the targets lying on the seabed. The remains of the ships, up to 18 meters long, were found and documented at a depth of between 100-150 meters.

Annalisa Zarattini is an underwater archaeologist with Italy's culture ministry. She 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.

Zarattini says Italy's seas are an incredible museum which help uncover history.

Traveling with her on a finance police boat, which helps the ministry patrol the waters, she described this latest find.

"We identified four Roman wrecks, four ships that probably sunk during a storm at different time periods," said Zarattini.

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.

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.

Colonel Virgilio Giusti is involved in these operations and says no object can be removed from the seabed without previous authorization.

"Controls are carried out to ensure that the amphorae are not removed by divers to keep for themselves or to sell them illegally," said Giusti.

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.

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