A maritime Pompeii in Pisa

An archaeological dig in San Rossore train station on the outskirts of Pisa has uncovered 39 ancient shipwrecks in spectacular states of preservation. The ones that have been dated range from the 5th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D., and you would not believe the stuff they’ve found.

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—one 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.

Read the whole article because every paragraph is full of wonders. This site tells us so much about Etruscan, Greek, Phoenician, Roman pre and post-Christian shipping, life, everything. It’s a massive, mind-blowing find.

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Comment by Clutch
2008-03-22 18:07:00

“Optimistic workers on the Pisa project hope they will also have a museum dedicated to their 39 ships by 2015, inside Pisa’s nearby Arsenal museum.”

[marks date on calendar]

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Comment by livius drusus
2008-03-25 11:50:29

Srsly. Party time. I’ve half a mind to go over there right now and just sit at the train station staring at the dig all day.

Comment by Henrietta
2011-10-12 00:32:31

Can any of the participants in this blog, which I only discovered tonight, tell me if one may arrange for a tour of the ship site and the museum housing the excavated ships in Pisa? I have more than a tourist’s curiosity about the discovery and would love to have help from a historian. All advice welcome.

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Comment by livius drusus
2011-10-12 12:44:26

I’m afraid the archaeological site and the museum that houses the recovered ships and artifacts have been closed to the public since July of last year. That’s what it says on the museum website, at any rate. We need a local reporter on the scene to find out what’s what, and I have just the fella in mind.

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