Giant Roman Shipwreck Yields "Fishy" Treasure

November 20, 2006

Sunken treasure with a distinctly fishy flavor has been recovered from a huge Roman shipwreck in the Mediterranean.

The 2,000-year-old vessel, discovered off the Spanish coast, was described by marine archaeologists last week as "a jewel of the Old World."

However, it wasn't gold or silver that the ship was carrying but hundreds of jars of a foul-smelling fish sauce.

The ancient delicacy, known as garum, was usually made from fermented fish guts and blood. Wealthy Romans, experts say, couldn't get enough of the stuff.

The sailing ship, dating from the first century A.D. lies about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) off Alicante in southeast Spain, where it was first located by divers in 2000 (See Spain map).

The vessel was about 100 feet (30 meters) long and held up to 400 tons of cargo, making it one of the largest Roman shipwrecks ever found, archaeologists said at a conference near the Spanish city of Valencia earlier this month.

Carlos de Juan, who co-led the undersea excavation team, says the ship contains more than 1,200 well-preserved two-handled clay jars called amphoras.

Ceramic-and-mortar seals on the garum jars were corroded by seawater or removed by the occasional curious octopus, the archaeologists report, but traces of the fish sauce remain inside.

"We knew [the shipwreck] was an important find but had no real idea until now," de Juan, who works for the government of Valencia Province, told the Associated Press.

Caught in a Storm

The team said the ship probably sank in a storm while sailing to Rome from the Spanish port of Cadiz, offering important clues about ancient trade routes.

The wooden vessel, which was preserved in mud on the seabed, is dated to about A.D. 50, around the time of the Roman emperors Claudius and Nero.

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