Ancient Shipwreck Dates to Time When Rome Still Ruled

Divers spend hours descending 400-plus feet in search of artifacts
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 28, 2014 8:09 AM CDT
Ancient Shipwreck Dates to Time When Rome Still Ruled
In this undated photograph provided by Global Underwater Explorers, divers illuminate Greco-Roman artifacts of a ship that sunk during the Punic Wars between 218-201 B.C., in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Aeolian Island of Panarea near Italy. The technical divers, trained in Florida's labyrinth of...   (AP Photo/GUE, Ingemar Lundgren)

Scientists in Italy are teaming up with highly skilled divers from Florida to carefully sift through an ancient shipwreck dating back thousands of years—to the second Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage from 218BC to 201BC. It could be one of the oldest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, and is well preserved thanks to its depth at 410 feet below sea level, where the ship, called Panarea III, is protected from looters and fishing lines alike, reports In fact, it's so hard to reach it takes a specialized team of divers with a specific blend of gases several hours to descend and ascend, giving them just 30 minutes per dive to explore. It's dangerous, but "technology hasn't substituted the human hand for uncovering and cleaning artifacts," says one diver.

The vessel is a 50-foot wooden ship that may have broken up during a rough storm or hit rocks, scientists surmise. Among the findings: the ship's anchor and a sacrificial altar with Greek writing. Experts say the Panarea III could have belonged to a wealthy merchant, perhaps from near Naples' wine country, or a supply ship for Romans like Claudio Marcello, who conquered Syracuse in 212BC. "Reaching the dive site was a mystical experience and very much like reaching through a window in time," says the diver. Scientists hope to send divers back down to the site sometime next year. (Recently Canada found a shipwreck that was only 36 feet below the surface of the icy sea.)

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