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Roman ship transported live fish

Remains of the second century ship show signs of an ancient pumping system designed to suck sea water into a tank. Placed on the ship’s deck in the aft area, the fish tank could have housed 440 pounds of live fish

June 30, 2011

The ancient Romans might have traded live fish across the Mediterranean Sea by endowing their ships with an ingenious hydraulic system, a new investigation into a second century A.D. wreck suggests.

Consisting of a pumping system designed to suck the sea water into a fish tank, the apparatus has been reconstructed by a team of Italian researchers who analyzed a unique feature of the wreck: a lead pipe inserted in the hull near the keel.

Recovered in pieces from the Adriatic sea in 1999, the ship was carrying a cargo of processed fish when it sank six miles off the coast of Grado in northeastern Italy.

The small trade vessel, which was 55 feet long and 19 feet wide, was packed with some 600 vases called amphoras.They were filled with sardines, salted mackerel, and garum, a fish sauce much loved by the Romans.

Now the archaeologists suspect that some 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of live fish, placed in a tank on the deck in the aft area, might have also been carried by the ship during its sailing life.

"The apparatus shows how a simple small cargo vessel could have been turned into one able to carry live fish. This potentiality, if confirmed by future studies, shows that trading live fish was actually possible in the Roman world," Carlo Beltrame, a marine archaeologist at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice in Italy, told Discovery News.

Indeed, a number of historical accounts have suggested that the Romans might have transported live fish by sea. For example, the scientist and historian Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 A.D.), wrote that live parrotfish were shipped from the Black Sea to the Neapolitan coast in order to introduce the species into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

[Source: Discovery News]

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