Archaeologists found the vessel filled with hundreds of intact jars under just 6 feet of water off one of Mallorca’s most popular beaches.
The weather was stormy when Roman merchants left Cartagena, Spain, about 1,700 years ago and sailed towards the Italian peninsula. Carrying hundreds of amphorae filled with wine, olives, oil and fermented fish sauce, the ship now known as the Ses Fontanelles capsized and sank. It was never seen again – until now.
the Ses Fontanelles wreck appeared off the coast of Mallorca in the summer of 2019 after a storm shifted the sand around it. Found 6.5 feet below sea level and 164 feet from one of the most popular beaches, the ship had remained remarkably hidden the entire time. Most amazingly, a naturally formed layer of sand had prevented oxygen from destroying them.
The find was so incredible that the universities of the Balearic Islands, Barcelona and Cadiz named a joint three-year project Arqueomallornauta to salvage the ship and cargo. The first phase of the project, which the researchers hope will provide new insights into maritime transport in Late Antiquity, began in November 2021.
“It is incredibly difficult – almost impossible – to find entire amphorae that are inscribed and still have remnants of their contents.” called dr Darío Bernal-Casasola from the University of Cadiz. “The state of preservation here is just incredible. And you have all that, I only have two meters of water where millions of people have swum.”
At the height of the Roman Empire in AD 117, its territory stretched from Europe through western Asia and the Mediterranean to North Africa. Transporting goods to distant regions by ship was common, making the myriad shipwrecks found today not all that rare. the Ses Fontanelleshowever, was a different animal.
At 39 feet long and 16-19 feet wide, the wooden ship is not only incredibly intact, but contains some of the rarest finds in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to 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 region.
“Things are so perfectly preserved that we found pieces of textile, 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 it’s preserved – even the wood of the hull… It’s wood to knock on – like it’s from yesterday.”
The amphorae were found structurally intact, with traces of their contents still locked inside. And they even still bore their outer inscriptions. dr Casasola called this an “unlikely subaquatic archaeological hat-trick”. The rest of these ancient artifacts shed light on the cultural beliefs of the time.
Researchers quickly determined that the oil lamp that was recovered bore the pagan symbol of the moon goddess Diana, but the amphorae were, according to a, imprinted with Christian seals press release published by the Universidad de Cadiz.
“The crew was probably pagan, but some of the goods they carried have Christian symbols,” said Dr. ca. “You have to be careful how you interpret that – that cargo could be from some ecclesiastical authority – but you have this coexistence between the pagan and the Christian.”
“That can tell us something about the day-to-day life of the crew. They might have said, ‘Look, I’m a sailor and I believe what I believe, but you want me to carry a 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 to the ancient Romans. He suggested that the islands were a way station between Italy and Spain and were used by the Balearic elites as social and economic centers for networking and trade endeavours.
“This isn’t just about Mallorca; There are very few wrecks with such a unique cargo in the entire Western Mediterranean,” said Jaume Cardell, head of archeology at the Consell of Mallorca.
Since no human remains were found in the wreck, archaeologists believe the crew had either already made it safely ashore or were swept away by the storm. Ultimately, the purpose of Arqueomallornauta is the salvage and preservation of the shipwreck and its cargo.
The second phase of hull salvage is currently underway and is expected to be completed by 2023. After that, the researchers hope to be able to display the entire ship to the public.
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 read about the world’s most fascinating shipwrecks from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge; Queen Anne’s revenge; Queen Anne’s reckoning to the titanic.