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Roman shipwreck discovered

Thousands of years of history

It really is incredible to think that during the last few decades of the history of Can Pastilla, a small holiday resort between Palma and Playa de Palma that a Roman vessel which sank a couple of thousand years ago lay undiscovered near to the shore.

By chance, a local man out swimming with his wife just 50 metres from the beach spotted timbers and urns poking out of the sand just a few metres deep. He immediately reported his find to the Mallorca Consell's heritage department which immediately called in the help of Navy and Guardia Civil divers to aid archaelogists examining the wreck.

What they found was a Roman vessel about 10 metres by 5 metres which was used to transport goods from the Roman Empire's outpost in southern Spain to Rome and manned by a crew of 5 or 6 sailors. As Mallorca is pretty well on a straight line from Malaga to Rome, it was a well used pit stop on the journey.

On board were around 100 very well preserved anforas or urns many of which remained unopened. It's theorised that they contained olive oil, wine, and fish sauces which could all be used in the famous Roman orgies that took place in the Empire's capital in the good old imperial days!

Theories that the ship was sunk in a storm have been disputed because of the excellent condition of the urns, which even though cushioned with vine leaves would have been broken or at least displaced when buffeted by a major storm. Instead, it's believed that an accident or bad manoeuvre caused the ship to sink rapidly and thus preserve the urns.

An operation has just been completed to remove the urns from the boat and they are now in a special pool at the Mallorca Museum which allows them to desalinate slowly over a period of months so they can be examined properly. If allowed to dry immediately the salt in the seawater absorbed into the clay would crystallise and damage the urns.

At some stage in the future, after all the investigations have been completed it is hoped to put the urns on permanent display in the museum.

Isn't that such a fascinating story?

Now if after all that you still don't know the answer to the old question, 'What's a Roman urn?' The answer is of course 'about 225 denarii per year, plus a couple of bags of salt!

I'll get my coat.