Amphoras from a 2300-year-old merchant ship discovered in the Bay of Cannes five years ago have been damaged and looted, according to French divers who recently visited what was regarded as a significant archaeological site.
The vessel is thought to have sunk or spilled part of its cargo near Sainte-Marguerite, one of the Lerins islands off Cannes, in the 3rd century BC. The amphoras, which would once have contained wine, were found at a depth of 20m by noted French archaeological divers Anne and Jean-Pierre Joncheray in 2017.
Working in difficult conditions over three weeks, the divers uncovered 17 Graeco-Roman-style urns from the thick sediment that had protected them. They were described as being in a “remarkable” state of preservation.
The Joncherays had continued to work on what was known as the “Fort Royal 1” site, named after the fortress on Sainte-Marguerite island, until 2019. Jean-Pierre died in 2020.
No traces remained of the vessel itself, but the amphoras’ positions suggested that it might have lost part of its cargo while overturning and could lie preserved elsewhere. The sinking happened at a time when trade was still developing slowly in that part of the Roman Empire, with few such wreck sites found to date.
Archaeological divers arriving to continue the work of the Joncherays recently found that somebody had dived and disturbed the amphoras since the site was last visited.
It was not clear how many of the urns had been taken and how many damaged, but the French culture ministry’s marine archaeology department stated that: “Well-conserved wrecks from this period are particularly rare… the losses of scientific and historical information are probably significant.”
The area has been placed off-limits to boat traffic while maritime police investigate the incident.
Also on Divernet: 300 Amphoras Found – Contents, Labels And All!