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History and Stories



An archaeological discovery in the Elba sea

A leap backwards in time of two thousand years, this is the effect produced by the discovery of a wreckage effected in the waters of Elba on the promontory opposite Marciana Marina.
It concerns a huge Roman ship going back to the first Imperial period.
The extraordinarily well preserved state of the cargo that the ship was carrying makes the discovery on of the most interesting ever verified in Italian waters.
There were in fact nine “dolia” loaded aboard, made in ceramics, two metres high and five in circumference; in short a sort of antique container.
The ship was passing in front of Marciana Marina, between Elba and Corsica when, possibly, a strong southwesterly wind made it unmanageable causing it to sink with its heavy load.
Its discovery also has a touch of legend. Many of the stories of the fishermen described strange incidents that happened to their nets that remained trapped on the seabed which the nautical charts showed as being deep and sandy.
In the end a small sub-aqua expedition was mounted which included marine archaeologists and thus the mystery was uncovered.
The excellent preservation of the ship and its cargo will be the font of precious information about the commerce of the time, which will be integrated with that which has already been collected in the meticulous study by Doctor Paola Rendini of the Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici della Toscana.
Discoveries of this kind, even if of minor importance, have been made in the past; in the small archaeological museum of Portoferraio samples of oil, wine and dried fruits have been found, in their appropriate containers, and brought to the surface from the waters around Elba; one presumes also in this case the “dolia” contained foodstuffs.
After they had been preserved in a sepulchre of water at the depth of 69 metres, they will once more be touched by human hands. To smell the aromas, touch the consistencies will be like annulling the two thousand years which separate us from the last person who touched it, or even died in the wreck, all in one instant. Close enough to the coast to hope for salvation, but prey to a wind, which the more expert fishermen of those parts, those with the hard brackish expression, have learnt not to trust.
The Captain of that ship who yesterday studied the horizon with a frown on his face, today would pass his hands over the computer keyboard to trace the route with the gps system.
Even so …. Even so after all. that long stretch of sea is still today crossed by many craft and many Captains.
It makes one think of Braudel when he said that the base of human history there is “the sea of long standing” an unchanging history but which sometimes can change slightly. Perhaps it was not just chance that Braudel to explain this concept used the metaphor of the sea.


Text by Roberto Adriani
Pictures by Sandro Santioli

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