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A Maritime Pompeii

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  • Kim Noyes
    *A Maritime Pompeii* *Pisa is famous for its leaning tower, but archeologists there are now uncovering an amazing fleet of ancient ships, some complete with
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1 3:35 PM
      *A Maritime Pompeii*
      *Pisa is famous for its leaning tower, but archeologists there are now
      uncovering an amazing fleet of ancient ships, some complete with crew and
      cargo.*
      By Barbie Nadeau
      Newsweek Web Exclusive
      Updated: 1:06 PM ET Nov 1, 2007

      The San Rossore train station on the edge of Pisa, Italy, is a lonely stop.
      Tourists who visit this city to see its famous leaning tower generally use
      the central station across town. But San Rossore is about to be recognized
      as one of the country's most significant archeological digs. For nearly a
      decade archeologists have been working near and under the tracks to unearth
      what is nothing short of a maritime Pompeii.

      So far the excavation has turned up 39 ancient shipwrecks buried under nine
      centuries of silt, which preserved extraordinary artifacts. The copper nails
      and ancient wood are still intact, and in many cases cargo is still sealed
      in the original terra cotta amphorae, the jars used for shipment in the
      ancient world. They have also found a cask of the ancient Roman fish
      condiment known as *garum *and many mariners' skeletons´┐Żone crushed under
      the weight of a capsized ship. One ship carried scores of pork shoulder
      hams; another carried a live lion, likely en route from Africa to the
      gladiator fights in Rome.

      What's most dramatic about the discovery of this maritime graveyard is that
      the ships date from different centuries both before and after the advent of
      the Christian era, meaning the shipwrecks did not happen simultaneously but
      over time in the same area. Researchers say that starting around the 6th
      century B.C. the cargo docks of the port of Pisa were accessed by a canal
      that made a loop connecting the harbor to the open sea. Every hundred years
      or so over the course of nearly a thousand years, tsunamilike waves
      violently flooded the waterway and capsized and buried ships, their cargo
      and their passengers and crew, alongside uprooted trees and even tiny birds
      and animals. The 39 shipwrecks, of which 16 have been age-dated and
      partially or fully excavated so far, date from around the fifth century B.C.
      to the fourth century A.D. Random artifacts, for which the archeologists
      have not yet found ships, date back even further. "The ships represent life
      in motion," says Elena Rossi, an archeologist who has worked on the site
      since it was first discovered. "Some may have foundered, others sunk in
      storms, and others went to the bottom in a flood."

      The shipwrecks represent a significant piece of a puzzle that archeologists
      and anthropologists have struggled to understand for centuries. Studying the
      oldest boats' contents and the way those ships were built, archeologists now
      better understand just who the Romans and Etruscans traded with and how they
      lived and utilized the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the oldest ships belonged
      to the Greeks and the Phoenicians, which implies that the mysterious and
      little-understood Etruscans were in fact active traders. One ship carried
      amphorae sealed with sand from both Spain and from the volcanic regions of
      Campania in Italy, giving scientists vital clues to where these ships
      traveled.
      For the rest of the article go here:
      http://www.newsweek.com/id/67475?>1=10547

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