An Italian scuba diver has discovered an ancient Roman shipwreck site in the form of its spilled cargo of several hundred roof-tiles and a cracked iron anchor.
Fabio Matacchiera found the remains while diving among rocks at a depth of about 15m near Leporano marina, off the southern Italian city of Taranto where he lives. The anchor’s fractured shank suggested that the ship might have been caught in powerful swells while moored.
Matacchiera shared his photographs, video footage and site measurements with a colleague, underwater archaeologist Prof Mario Lazzarini, who confirmed that the wreck dated to imperial Roman times and could be as much as 2,000 years old.
He believes that the ship would have been at least 15m long and was carrying building materials to refurbish coastal homes.
“Between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, the eastern Tarantino coast saw a flourishing of rustic villas and large farms with luxurious private residences built by the sea,” explained Prof Lazzarini. “They were generally the property of rich and influential free imperial families, and equipped with all possible comforts – reception rooms adorned with mosaics, porches, thermal baths, servants’ lodgings and cisterns for the water supply.
“Over the centuries these buildings would be reconstructed, expanded and improved, so there was demand for the building materials used at the time, especially bricks and roof shingles.
“Transport by sea was much more convenient than using animal-drawn wagons on unpaved, winding roads. A medium-sized ship, between 15 and 20m long, could carry 10 times the load of such vehicles with relatively safe offshore navigation, and unload the materials in numerous coastal inlets.
“However, over many centuries violent storms could sometimes send some of these cargo ships to the bottom!”
Prof Lazzarini said that he had not been surprised by Matacchiera’s discovery. “I have already reported on a similar wreck in Saturo Bay, and others will probably be discovered in the future.”
Mataccheira is a teacher and also runs the Prototypes Technical Studio, which designs, manufactures and tests underwater camera, communications and other equipment. He also carries out underwater archaeological and environmental research.
The evidence from the wreck has been passed to the National Superintendency for Underwater Cultural Heritage, which is based in Taranto and will supervise protection of the site.