Archaeologists have found the vessel filled with hundreds of intact jars in just 6ft of water off one of Mallorca’s most popular beaches.
The weather was stormy as Roman traders left Cartagena, Spain and set sail for the Italian peninsula around 1,700 years ago. Carrying hundreds of amphorae full of wine, olives, oil and fermented fish sauce, the ship now known as Its Fontanelles capsized and sank. He was never seen again – until now.
the Its Fontanelles destroy emerged off the coast of Majorca in the summer of 2019 after a storm moved the sand around it. Found 6.5 feet below sea level and 164 feet from one of the more popular beaches, the ship had remained remarkably hidden all the way. Most amazing of all, a naturally formed layer of sand had prevented oxygen from destroying it.
The discovery was so incredible that the universities of the Balearic Islands, Barcelona and Cadiz launched a joint three-year project called Arqueomallornauta to recover the vessel and the cargo. The first stage of the project, which the researchers hope will shed new light on maritime traffic in Late Antiquity, began in November 2021.
“It is incredibly difficult – almost impossible – to find whole amphoras which bear inscriptions, and which still have the remains of their contents”, noted Dr. Darío Bernal-Casasola from the University of Cadiz. “The state of conservation here is just amazing. And you have it all in just two meters of water where millions of people have swum.
At the height of the Roman Empire in 117 AD, its territory stretched from Europe to Western Asia and from the Mediterranean Sea to North Africa. Transporting goods to remote areas by boat was common, making the countless shipwrecks found today not too rare. the Its Fontanelleshowever, was a different beast.
Measuring 39 long by 16 to 19 feet wide, the wooden vessel is not only incredibly intact, but contains some of the rarest finds in the Mediterranean Sea. Besides 300 amphorae of food and drink, it contained a cooking pot, an oil lamp, a leather shoe, a rope shoe and a carpenter’s drill – one of only four ever found in the area.
“Things were so perfectly preserved that we found pieces of textiles, a leather shoe and an espadrille,” said Dr Miguel Ángel Cau from the University of Barcelona. “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.”
The amphorae were found structurally intact, with traces of their contents still trapped inside. And they even still bore their exterior inscriptions. Dr Casasola called it an “improbably underwater archaeological hat trick”. Meanwhile, the rest of these ancient artifacts shed light on the cultural beliefs of the time.
Researchers quickly noted that the recovered oil lamp bore the pagan symbol of the moon goddess Diana, but that the amphoras were imprinted with Christian seals according to a Press release published by the University of Cadiz.
“The crew was probably pagan, but some of the goods they carried have Christian symbols,” Dr Cau said. “You have to be careful how you interpret that – this cargo could have come from an ecclesiastical authority – but you have this coexistence between the pagan and the Christian.”
“That perhaps tells us a bit about the daily life of the crew. They could have said, ‘Look, I’m a sailor and I believe what I believe, but you want me to carry Christian cargo, I’m fine with that if the money is good.’ »
For historian Enrique García of the University of the Balearic Islands, this wreck proves how vital the Balearic archipelago was for the ancient Romans. He suggested the islands were a stopover between Italy and Spain and used by Balearic elites as social and economic hubs for networking and business endeavors.
“It’s not just about Mallorca; in the entire western Mediterranean there are very few wrecks with such a singular cargo,” said Jaume Cardell, head of archeology at the Consell de Mallorca.
With no human remains found in the wreckage, archaeologists believe the crew had either already made it safely to shore or were swept away by the storm. Ultimately, the goal of Arqueomallornauta is to recover and preserve the wreck and its cargo.
The second stage of hull recovery is now underway and is expected to be completed by 2023. After that, researchers hope to put the entire ship on public display.
After reading about the 1,700-year-old Roman shipwreck in Mallorca, learn about the world’s oldest shipwreck found in the Black Sea. Then, discover the world’s most intriguing shipwrecks, from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge to the Titanic.