During the summer of 2019, a storm hit off the Ca’n Pastilla beach in Mallorca. The churning waters freed the wreck of a Roman merchant ship Ses Fontanelles, lost to the world since it sank around the mid-4th century AD.
In the years that followed, the former wreck was the subject of extensive studies in a collaboration between the universities of Barcelona, Cadiz and the Balearic Islands known as the Consell de Mallorca. Together, these institutions have undertaken a three-year project called Arqueomallornauta (2021-2023), to take stock of underwater discoveries.
The results, according to the Consell de Mallorca researchers, are “frankly exceptional”.
Some 300 amphorae were unearthed from the shipments. While some are in pieces, many are in remarkably pristine condition. Scientists say the ancient containers were used to transport both fermented fish sauces as well as oil and wines that would have been used to preserve fruit.
The amphorae are decorated with painted inscriptions called tituli picti— in fact, a total of 100 painted labels were discovered among the wreckage, making it the largest collection of tituli picti in Spain. These give insight into the life of the crew on board, as well as shipping and trade in the 4th century AD in the Mediterranean.
A video uploaded by the University of the Balearic Islands featuring Enrique García, professor of art history and theory, gives an idea of the richness of the site.
Various other ‘exceptional archaeological treasures’ were also discovered: a bow drill believed to have been used by carpenters to repair boats, the first to appear in Spain and one of the few ever discovered; two shoes, an espadrille and a leather one; Strings; and various organic remains.
The 12-meter-long, six-meter-wide (40-foot by 18-foot) boat is itself a maritime treasure in very good condition, likely because it has been preserved under sediment, preventing oxidation. “The most surprising thing about the boat is how well preserved it is – even the wood in the hull… It’s wood you can knock – like it was from yesterday,” said Dr. Miguel Ángel Cau, archaeologist at the University of Barcelona. say it Guardian.
Analysis of Ses Fontanelles and its contents led researchers to establish that the boat would have sailed from the region of Cartagena, Spain.
Because the boat was discovered just two meters below sea level and only 60 meters from the coastline, archaeologists fear it could be vulnerable to looting or subject to destruction, if another storm hits the same location. A group of specialists carries out the excavation and the study, as well as a possible excavation of the hull and a partial recovery of the furniture inside.
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