Posted: November 16th, 2010
Lost Ships of Rome
Program Transcript

Secrets of The Dead: Lost Ships of Rome

Narrator: This is Ventotene—an Italian island with a mysterious past.

Just off its shore lies a watery graveyard filled with the remains of ancient Roman ships.

Now, a team of deep-sea explorers is setting out to uncover the mystery of these wrecks and why they were lost.

Timmy Gambin: It’s not every day that five well-preserved shipwrecks are discovered within one contained area.

Narrator: Recovering some of the ancient cargo could reveal new secrets about the Roman Empire… and this enigmatic island.

The dive site is more than 300 feet under water, extreme conditions which will test the crew’s courage and equipment to their limits.

Boom – I just heard this bang.

Jeez!

This expedition is a combination of extreme diving and archaeology.

Title – The Lost Ships of Rome

Ventotene is a tiny Italian holiday island – just 43 miles off the coast of Naples.

It is also the site of one of the more incredible archaeological finds in recent history.

In 2009, archaeologist Timmy Gambin and his crew scanned the seabed surrounding the island with sonar equipment and discovered five ancient Roman shipwrecks.

Timmy Gambin: L Sia la corda di recupero
Translation: This is the recovery rope.

Narrator: And now they’ve returned to retrieve the ancient cargo, untouched for more than two millennia.

The first dive is to the wreck of a Roman merchant ship filmed using a remote camera called an R-O-V.

The ship’s wooden hull has long since rotted away but its cargo of amphorae is incredibly well preserved.

The team wants to bring one of these jars to the surface, as they can provide precious clues on how the ancient Romans lived.

But this treasure is under 360 feet of water – nearly three times deeper than a recreational SCUBA diver can go.

So far the crew has only been able to get their robotic camera down to film the wreck.

Sending humans down proves more difficult.

Italian cameraman Roberto Rinaldi is a deep-sea diver who’s worked with legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Together with his partner Marco, nicknamed Numero Uno, he’ll descend to the bottom of the ocean where the wrecks lie.

Divers must follow special equipment when diving so deep. The compressed air normally used for scuba diving can have dangerous side effects.

Roberto Rinaldi: You can feel a bit dizzy, you can feel sleepy, you can feel euphoric, you can but basically your brain is not working in the normal way, it’s not working as it should work. And obviously this is something you don’t want to experience when you are diving, especially when you’re diving deep.

Narrator: Instead of air the divers breathe a finely tuned mix of oxygen, nitrogen and helium.

And for backup they’ve recruited of a team of military divers from a special branch of the Carabinieri, Italy’s national law enforcement organization.

The archaeologists only have this specialized team for five days so the clock is ticking…

Out on the ocean archaeologist Timmy Gambin begins the first phase of the mission – locating and marking the shipwreck.

Our starting point is a GPS waypoint. Once we’re on that point we put down a shotline, which is basically a rope, which will lead the divers from the surface to the wreck site.

The crew tries to manoeuvre the boat precisely over the wreck and then drops a lead weight.

The weight must land as close as possible to the wreck – without smashing the precious cargo.

Now all eyes are on skipper Aaron Podesta.

Timmy Gambin: Aaron’s nickname from the Italian part of the team is Sniper – Cecchino – because of his accuracy.

Narrator: The Sniper is confident he’s hit the mark, but the crew must confirm his accuracy.

They mobilise their diving robot – the ROV. Its video camera will show the ROV pilot where the shot line has landed.

If the marker is too far away from the wreck the divers may struggle to reach the site.

Eric Mullen: That might be it here…

Timmy Gambin: We found it – great.

Timmy Gambin: We’re extremely happy – Aaron was able to get the shotline down to within 2 metres of the site, which when you consider the hundred and ten metre depth that exists between us and the site – I think it’s a good shot.

Narrator: Roberto and Marco start the dive.

There is no direct line of communication between the divers and the boat so from now on, they’re on their own.

As the divers descend through the water, the pressure on their bodies reaches over 150 pounds per square inch – five times that of a car tire.

And there it is—the wreck they’ve been so eager to find.

This is the first time in more than 2,000 years that a human being has been anywhere near these amphorae.

The wreck is so well preserved, some amphorae are still stacked in their original positions.

None of the containers have intact stoppers, so there’s little hope of finding any of their ancient contents inside.

At such extreme depths, the divers can only spend a few minutes at the wreck so they must quickly decide which amphora to bring to the surface.

It must be clear of the other amphorae, so they can lift it out without breaking it.

Numero Uno spots the perfect target.

He clips the recovery line around the amphora and starts his ascent.

Diving so deep limits the time divers can spend at the site and also makes resurfacing more complicated.

If the divers came straight up to the surface lethal gas bubbles would form in their bloodstream.

Instead, they must come up very slowly to clear the high-pressure gases from their bodies – which takes more than three hours.

Now it’s time for the surface crew to retrieve the R-O-V.

Timmy Gambin: Can we recover?

Eric Mullen: Can I just get minute to sort things out? I don’t know where the rest of this cable went. OK – can I just get minute?

Timmy Gambin: Roberto and Marco have a shot line down for their decompression. We’ve got the original shot line down with an amphora attached, and we we’ve got over a 120 metres of ROV cable down there. We just want to make sure that all these three cables are free from one another.

Timmy Gambin: Well done with the recovery.

Narrator: The crew can start pulling up their treasure.

It’s a delicate operation: They don’t know how fragile the ancient pottery is.

If the boat bounces in the waves and jerks the line even slightly, it could easily break the amphora’s neck.

While they are excited to catch their first glimpse, they must be extra cautious.

Once out of the water, the amphora’s full weight hangs by a single thread.

But it survives without a scratch.

It is in excellent condition given that it’s spent thousands of years under water.

Timmy Gambin: My first reaction is a fantastic, fantastic feeling. The last time someone touched it approximately 2100 years ago – it was the stevedore who was putting carefully into the hold of the ship, thinking that it was going to safely make it to its destination.

Narrator: This simple piece of pottery holds important clues about the shipwrecks.

And in the hands of an expert like Timmy it will open up a window into ancient Roman life.

On board the expedition ship, the crew has a closer look at their find.

The amphora’s contents have vanished, so Timmy can’t tell immediately what it carried.

But he can build on the detective work of other archaeologists.

He compares this vessel to a database of known amphorae types – and finds a match.

Timmy Gambin: This amphora dates from the first century BC, originates from Italy and was made to carry wine.

What is considered treasure today was actually a very common object in ancient Rome.

Timmy Gambin: These containers have been referred to as the jerrycans of antiquity. But rather than fuel they were used to carry foodstuffs.

Narrator: With their pointed ends, amphorae can’t stand on their own.

But in fact, they’re unique shape made them perfect shipping containers.

Stacked inside a ship, the tip of each amphora fits precisely into the neck of the one below to form interlocking layers.

The layers make the most of the available space and keep the cargo stable.

The humble amphora was a cornerstone of the Roman Empire.

It was just as mighty as the sword.

Without the vital goods it carried, Rome could not have sustained its 500-year reign.

The Carabinieri take amphora to the local museum for cleaning and display.

But the question remains: Where was this boatload full of wine going?

Was it destined for Ventotene?

When the ship sank in the first century BC, Ventotene had one very important resident: Augustus – the first Emperor of Rome.

Classicist Annelise Freisenbruch has come to the island to look for traces of the great ruler.

Annelise Freisenbruch: You can see why this was a good place for him to have a holiday home here because it gives you peace and quiet – it’s the none thing you’re certain of getting here.

Narrator: Augustus chose the island as the site for a luxurious imperial villa, set in spectacular surroundings.

It was built as a seaside retreat – where Augustus could relax and recover from the business of running an empire.

These steps here are the remains of what would have been a large communal bathing room for Augustus and his friends to enjoy.

Over here you’ve got a sauna where you could come and sweat before going into one of the other baths, for example the frigidarium. So it’s sort of like great kind of health spa, almost, this place.

This villa was clearly a place fit for an emperor.

Was the wine from the shipwreck destined for the imperial cellars – or perhaps to fuel a Roman orgy?

The answer lies with the woman who lived in this palace – Princess Julia, the emperor’s daughter.

Annelise has studied Julia’s tragic story.

Julia is Augustus’ only daughter. And he had everything set up for her to be the golden girl of his regime. She is a pawn on a chessboard, she is a piece to be moved around to suit Augustus’ political ends.

When Augustus comes to power, Rome is a decadent and morally corrupt metropolis.

Eager to reform his imperial capital, the emperor vows to lead by example.

He made a virtue out of the fact that he was restoring a kind of Golden Age of Rome, a morally pure period in comparison with the political and moral corruption that was seen to characterise the Republic. So just as he himself made a virtue out of claiming to dress frugally to live simply he insisted that his wife, his daughter – Julia – and his female relatives should follow a similarly unimpeachable pattern of living.

But Julia rebels against her father’s strict moral code and seems to seek out scandal.

The worst thing she was said to have done was to have had sex on the rostrum, the speakers’ platform in the Forum, from where of course her father had probably issued his moral legislation of 18 BC – in which he had made adultery a criminal offence for the first time.

One of Julia’s alleged lovers is executed, while she is banished to the villa on Ventotene – a seemingly mild sentence.

But the emperor makes sure his alduterous daughter can feel his wrath.

She was to be denied all luxuries, no visitors, no male visitors were allowed to visit her, she was prevented from drinking wine – and essentially made to live the life her father couldn’t impose on her while she was living in Rome.

Julia’s villa is the only place of note on the island, so the wine on the wrecked ship must have been headed elsewhere – to the new provinces of Rome.

The local tribes in France and Spain have a huge appetite for wine, but Rome has forbidden them from making their own.

Wine merchants from mainland Italy capitalize on the local prohibition and sell their wine for huge profits.

They can afford to risk losing a whole ship and its cargo – which wasn’t a rare occurrence.

The sunken ship carrying wine from the bay of Naples probably ran into trouble only a day into its voyage and sank near Ventotene.

For Princess Julia, Ventotene was her own personal Alcatraz.

But for Roman sailors it was an oasis – where they could find shelter, food and water.

And all this thanks to Emperor Augustus – who transformed Ventotene from barren rock to blossoming island.

Before Roman times there was no fresh water on the island; it has no natural springs.

Today nearly every drop of water on the island is shipped from mainland Italy in this tanker.

So how did Augustus supply his villa with water?

With the help of local historian Salvatore Schiano, Timmy Gambin sets out to learn where Augustus got his water from.

The Romans harvested the water from the sky – by paving over part of the island.

E il pavimento qua fuori che cosa?
This pavement – what was it made of?

Cocciopesto – malta idraulica quindi frammenti di coccio impastati con sabbia pozzolana.
Cocciopesto – hydraulic mortar, mixed with pottery shards and volcanic sand

The large paved areas collected rainwater and funnelled it into a series of collection chambers.

First the water flowed through decantation pools – to filter out the dirt and debris.

Then it went underground – to a huge cistern carved from the rock.

The first thing that strikes you is how cool the temperature is inside. So it must have kept the water from turning stagnant. And so the Romans put a lot of thought into keeping the water fresh.

To keep the water from escaping the Romans used one of their many amazing inventions, which was this concrete that set under water. We usually come across this in harbour structures such as quays and wharves, but in this case the engineers have used it in this underground cistern.

Augustus built two of these big water collection systems – which could gather more than 250,000 gallons of water a year.

His engineers connected the two cisterns and carved a network of tunnels deep into the rock of the island – to transport the water where it was needed.

This tunnel that carried water to Julia’s villa is a masterpiece of precision engineering.

This tunnel is over one kilometre long and takes the water from the main cistern and feeds it to the lower part of the island.

Cut it too steep and the water will just run off, too flat and the water will stagnate. So the Roman engineers had to get the levels absolutely spot on. It’s incredible how they managed to achieve this even though they did not have the modern technologies wreck available to engineers today.

The next wreck the crew discovers is highly unusual.

When experts first see the sonar image, it looks less like an ancient ship and more like a pile of car tires.

But when Timmy gets his remote camera on site, he knows he’s made a stunning discovery – a shipment of Roman kitchenware called mortaria.

It’s only the second time a whole boatload of mortaria has ever been found.

The wreck lies even deeper than the first one – nearly 380 feet below the surface.

The ship’s cargo lies in two separate piles, which suggests the ship sank violently.

Close inspection reveals that the piles are made up of hundreds of these clay bowls.

All of them are absolutely identical – a clear indication that they were mass-produced and shipped in bulk.

These simple objects reveal how Roman technology conquered the world.

The pottery is so robust, Numero Uno has no problem bringing it to the surface.

The object is very well preserved – even tiny details of the potter’s work are still visible after 2,000 years.

This ancient piece of clay is a perfect example of how Roman ideas spread through the Empire.

Timmy Gambin: This cargo is representative of the Romanisation that’s going on in the first century BC, where the Romans are exporting know-how – like cuisine, the making of olive oil, the making of wine – to the new provinces.

Narrator: Gejtu, the ship’s cook, demonstrates how the tool was actually used by an ancient chef. Cooks today will recognize it as a mortar and pestle.

It’s the ancient Roman version of a food processor – and every kitchen in the empire would have had one.

Timmy Gambin: One of the interesting features about the mortaria is this, the coarseness on the inside. The potter would have included this grit which consisted of small stones and rough pieces of ceramics and it just makes the items easier to grind within it.

Narrator: Gejtu whips up a recipe from the oldest known cookbook, by the ancient Roman writer Apicius.

It’s a sauce made from eggs, leeks and herbs – the kind of food a common Roman would have eaten.

Timmy Gambin: The sauce is starting to take shape and it’s not looking from what a modern dish would look like today.

Narrator: Gejtu serves up his Roman surprise at dinner – how will the ancient recipe go down?

This simple meal gives the crew a taste of princess Julia’s frugal life in Ventotene.

Served as a canapé at a dinner party it is pleasant enough.

But it’s a far cry from the rich food she would have enjoyed before her exile – a fitting punishment for the girl who dared to defy the Emperor.

Annelise Freisenbruch: Well this looks like a lovely, simple Mediterranean summer lunch. To us it actually looks a very tasty, nice sort of thing to have a on a hot day.
But to Julia this would represent denial, for her. Someone who’d been used to the social scene of Rome, to going to lavish dinner parties and so on. When she came to Ventotene we’re told that Augustus imposed a very frugal, monastic regime on her.
I’m sure Augustus felt a certain amount of vindictive satisfaction in knowing that, probably for the first time in her life his rebellious daughter actually had to do exactly what he wanted her to do.

The third wreck promises to be especially interesting.

Timmy Gambin: We’re trying to head for this shipwreck, which is in this area here.

Craig Mullen: This is a beautiful wreck to go visit – particularly with all the amphorae spread out. A massive pile went down completely intact.

Timmy Gambin: You’ve got the classic stacking …

Narrator: Timmy has analyzed the R-O-V footage and identified the type of amphora found.

Timmy Gambin: What we’re looking at is probably a variation of this type. And it dates from approximately the fourth century AD, comes from North Africa or modern day Tunisia, and was in all probability carrying this very important condiment called Garum.

Narrator: The garum the amphorae carried was a highly prized commodity – a pungent fish sauce that was essential to Roman cooking.

Two pints of the best garum could fetch the Roman equivalent of a thousand dollars, so this ship would have been worth more than 60 million dollars.

The wreck is incredibly well preserved, and the crew hopes to recover an amphora that still has traces of ancient garum inside.

It’s all hands on deck for dive number three.

But as they head out to sea, black clouds appear on the horizon.

Timmy Gambin: In the harbour you get a false sense of security, you think that it may have calmed down. Coming out, what’s happening now is that it’s increasing. You can feel it’s increasing, it’s not a dying wind, it’s a wind that’s picking up.

Narrator: Today, the Mediterranean reveals its ugly side.

The crew heads back to base empty-handed.

In port, they meet up with diver Roberto Rinaldi who never even left the shore.

Timmy Gambin: We went out into the lee of the island and it’s a wind that’s not settling down, it’ a wind that’s getting much stronger, so…

Roberto Rinaldi: It’s better we stop.

Craig Mullen: You’d be OK at 100 metres…

Roberto Rinaldi:AAAAHHHH…

Roberto Rinaldi: No, It’s not OK, because if anything happens for our decompression, you don’t get rid of it…

Craig Mullen:No, that’s right, it’s too dangerous.

Timmy Gambin: This is June in the Mediterranean, we should be dealing with heat waves and not constant strong North-Westerly and persistent rain.

Narrator: It’s a discouraging setback for the team, but they have a backup plan.

Timmy Gambin: We put in a layer of salt

Narrator: Timmy teams up with Geijtu to mix together a batch of garum.

This valuable substance is made from nothing more than salt and fermenting fish.

Timmy Gambin: OK – more salt. OK the last layer now.

Narrator: The actual preparation of Garum is relatively unknown. There are various theories as to its consistency, as to its preparation, but this is our experiment and hopefully in a few days’ time we’re going to see, or taste, what Garum was actually like.

Now you need to get a wooden spoon.

Timmy Gambin: One of the crucial elements of this preparation are the entrails of the fish. It’s the digestive fluids that help in the fermentation process.

Narrator: Of course, all this would have been done in a big vat, the Garum factories were huge complexes by the seaside and this preparation would have been done in a stone vat, and once mixed the vat would have been covered for a few days.

OK – where sees the sun most, I think we can leave it here? Yes.

As the fish bake in the sun, their digestive juices leak out of the guts and start to break down the flesh.

Soon the fish begin to ooze an oily slush – this is the garum.

It may look disgusting – but it’s brimming with nutrients.

And it contains a powerful taste enhancer – glutamate – also known as mono sodium glutamate, MSG.

Glutamate triggers chemical receptors on the tongue that can make the brain crave it like a drug…

… which explains the passion for garum in Julia’s time.

Annelise Freisenbruch: It was used quite ubiquitously across the whole Empire and certainly according to the cookbook we have from the ancient world – Apicius – he has Garum featured in almost every recipe in there – even in the sweet things – which seems completely bizarre to us, if you’ve actually smelt the stuff you sort of think – you know – God – what a disgusting prospect of having this in custard…

Narrator: Julia would have consumed garum nearly every day, but it’s unlikely that the massive shipment from Africa was destined for her villa.

So what was the ship doing at Ventotene?

A new day dawns but the wind and rain have not ceased.

The weather is now threatening the success of the entire mission—the crew has just one day left on the island.

But Timmy Gambin uses the time to explore the engineering masterpiece in the Emperor’s transformation of Ventotene – the port.

Timmy Gambin: This island had small sandy beaches, so anybody wishing to land would have had to anchor in the middle of the bay and take a small boat to land.

Narrator: The Romans, wishing to build something more permanent here, had to solve that problem. And to solve that problem they decided to build a formal port.

Timmy Gambin: And here we are, standing on the outer seawall of this fantastic piece of Roman engineering. Rather than the traditional way of building large seawalls out, extending out into the sea they decided to excavate a basin into solid rock.

Narrator: Augustus’ engineers picked the only spot on the island where the land meets the sea in a gentle slope.

Here they started digging into the volcanic rock – and carved out a deep basin 10 feet below the sea level.

The workers excavated more than 120,000 tons of rock by hand – an incredible effort.

But then came the most difficult task: removing the last of the rock so ships could enter the harbour.

The sea level has risen by nearly three feet since Roman times so much of the port’s structure now lies hidden under water.

But the team has been given special permission to explore what’s left of Augustus’ work.

Six feet down, they spot the original wharf where the ancient ships would have docked.

They find huge boulders which might have been used to tie up the ships.

And as they near the tip of the ancient pier, they spot strange striations in the rock.

They could be the toolmarks of ancient Roman divers who dug out the entrance – under water.

They had to hold their breath, dive down and hack away at the rock with hammers and chisels – until they’d carved an opening wide and deep enough for ships to pass.

Timmy Gambin: Absolutely fascinating! One of the most amazing things is the entrance, it’s cut extremely deep into the rock.

Roberto Rinaldi: I don’t know I cannot imagine how they could dig this in the water. OK this is soft as a rock, but it’s a rock! So must not be easy at all.

Craig Mullen: Those were heavy when we tried pick up some.

Timmy Gambin: Absolutely incredible engineering to get divers down 2000 years ago to cut that channel. Those were the real divers!

Narrator: Augustus’ port made Ventotene an important hub in the Roman trading empire and it’s still in perfect working order after 2,000 years.

The port is the reason the now sunken ships were here – the question is why did they perish so close to the safety of the habor?

In the afternoon, the weather suddenly clears so Timmy and skipper Aaron go out to explore what may have sunk the ships.

Timmy Gambin: At least four of the five shipwrecks we’ve discovered went down whole, so we’re looking at a scenario whereby these vessels were actually swamped, filled with water and then went down to the seabed as a whole.

Narrator: It may be that Ventotene itself is to blame for this strange occurrence.

Aaron Podesta, Captain: The problem is when you come too close to an island you can also get – apart from with big waves coming along with the wind you also get a backwash as a rebound from the rocks, which can stir up a pretty confused sea. So at one stage you’d be rolling one way and if the timing is correct you get a wave coming the other way which will keep on rolling you over.

Narrator: In high seas, the Roman ships’ precious cargo becomes a liability.

There’s a limit to how much pressure the stacked amphorae can take.

Eventually some of them break, upsetting the system of interlocking layers and shifting the cargo.

The ship becomes heavier on one side and lists out of balance.

Now it is vulnerable to the waves which submerge the ship so that it sinks to the sea floor completely intact.

The fate of the shipwrecked Roman sailors has been lost in time, but the story of princess Julia continues to fascinate historians.

They have recently re-opened her case and found that maybe she wasn’t a harlot after all, but something far more dangerous.

Annelise Freisenbruc: The charge of adultery was often in Roman society an excuse to get opponents out of the way.

Narrator: Many scholars actually now believe that Julia’s crime may not in fact have been adultery at all. There is a theory that perhaps Julia’s real crime was involvement in a political conspiracy of sorts against her father.

Augustus crushed many plots to stay in power and he isn’t going to make an exception for his daughter.

So he banishes Julia – to keep her away from Rome and his political power games.

Annelise Freisenbruch: When Julia came here she would have had no idea how long she was destined to remain here. This must have seemed like a living death.
Julia was said to have been very popular back in Rome with the general public and they were said to have protested against her exile. And although Augustus initially refused to listen to them, after five years it seem he did relent.

Narrator: After five years Augustus allows Julia to leave Ventotene, but he won’t let her return to Rome.

Julia speds the rest of her life far from the power center of ancient Rome in what is today Reggio di Calabria.

She dies at age 53 – just a few months after her father – apparently starved to death by the new Emperor, Tiberius, who was also her husband.

On the final day of the expedition, the crew tackles the deepest wreck of all.

It’s nearly 500 feet deep and holds a one last secret – a cargo of mysterious cylinders.

Objects like these have never been seen before and Timmy is keen to find out what they are.

So far the crew has only seen murky R-O-V footage – now they want to bring up one of the cylinders.

And as luck would have it, the weather forecast is promising.

Timmy Gambin: It’s the only day we’re going to have a shot at this and we’ve been preparing meticulously yesterday and this morning and we’re gonna give it our best shot.

Narrator: Spirits are high, but as the team approaches the dive site, the waves pick up again.

Eric Mullen: Here comes a big one…

Narrator: Despite the heavy seas, the crew prepares for the dive.

Eric Mullen: I’m really getting jerked around

Timmy Gambin: What’s the depth?

Eric Mullen: 109 – I see the shot line – I just don’t want to get tangled in it.

Narrator: The conditions quickly go from bad to worse.

And as the wreck appears on the R-O-V camera, there’s more bad news.

The shot line has landed close to the ship – but not close enough.

Timmy Gambin: Roberto – il pedagno sta dieci metri dal sito. Non siamo in una posizione di riprendere per riportare etc. Il ROV? Il ROV è gia sul sito. Se potete farla …

Translation: Roberto – the shotline is ten metres away from the site. We can’t bring it up and move it.
The ROV? The ROV is on the site. If you can do it…

Narrator: Timmy consults the divers.

Timmy Gambin: They’re not going to be able to do the recovery because of a) the weather and the distance and b) the weather doesn’t allow us to pick this up and re-deploy.

Narrator: Imagine something weighing 200 kilos or 150 kilos and something like that. One of us will end up getting injured.

They can’t bring up a cylinder today, but all is not lost.

Timmy Gambin: Nothing beats the human eye, so the divers are going to get a good visual inspection done of these objects and hopefully Roberto’s footage of the site will help us better understand the makeup of this mysterious cargo.

Narrator: This is the toughest of all the dives.

Roberto and Marco only have a slim window of 10 minutes at 480 feet.

Every extra minute they spend at the wreck means an extra hour of decompression.

When they reach the bottom, they discover they face yet another challenge.

The water over the target is as black as night, clouded by sediment.

The divers venture into the darkness alone because in these conditions, it’s too dangerous to have the R-O-V follow them.

From the surface, the crew can only watch the divers’ lights in the distance.

After Roberto finishes his survey of the wreck, the crew must wait until after his decompression before they can watch his footage.

What they don’t know is that something has gone wrong with the dive…

After a five-hour wait, they get a call from the dive base.

Part of Roberto’s camera was crushed by the extreme water pressure.

Roberto Rinaldi: this was perfectly round before, now it’s completely squeezed.

Craig Mullen: Bent completely. You’re a lucky guy.

Roberto Rinaldi: Always – You’re born lucky, you don’t become lucky.

Narrator: But for Timmy this is no laughing matter.

Timmy Gambin: You spent 12.5 minutes down there.

Roberto Rinaldi: Twelve and a half? You see – I’m good, eh?

Timmy Gambin: You were meant to spend 10, you naughty man.

Roberto Rinaldi: Ah but come on…

Narrator: Only a few minutes into the dive Roberto got into trouble.

Roberto Rinaldi: Toom! I just heard this big bang, like this and I mean it was very strong in my hands and in my stomach. And it was not long to realise that something imploded.

Craig Mullen: This one here.

Roberto Rinaldi: Toom – this is the second one.

Craig Mullen: The second one went? Jesus!

Narrator: The shrapnel from the implosion could have shredded Roberto’s equipment – or even injured him.

And at this depth a fast rescue would have been impossible.

A lesser diver would have aborted the mission.

But Roberto put down his camera to get his hands on one of the mysterious objects.

Roberto Rinaldi: And I tried to pull it up – it was stuck on the bottom. No way to move, not even to move a little bit. And there is a hole here. And I tried to put the finger inside and tried to move – and see that – I mean, it’s completely stuck.

Timmy Gambin: So you think that almost definitely they are some form of metal?

Roberto Rinaldi: I would say, yeah.

Roberto Rinaldi: And this blue – this colour belongs to the material. This I can tell for sure.

Craig Mullen: Could it be lead? Lead is a blue grey.

Narrator: The cylinders keep the crew guessing but they’ve gathered other clues about the wreck.

These amphorae prove that the ship sank around 2000 years ago. Timmy thinks it may have been heading for the city of Rome, with a hold full of grain.

This would have rotted a way over the millennia and left only the pottery and the mysterious metal cylinders.

Timmy Gambin: Now whether they’re some form of raw materials being transported – we still don’t know. But we’re a step closer to solving that mystery.

It’s been five days since the team started the expedition and their time in Ventotene is coming to an end.

But they’re about to face the biggest challenge of all.

After days of stewing in the sun the garum is ready to be served.

Timmy Gambin: Allora – assaggiamo questo Garum? Senti l’odore… L’abbiamo preso la ricetta antica…

Translation: So – shall we taste this Garum? Have a smell… We’ve taken the ancient recipe…

Narrator: At first the crew is suspicious – but finally the garum works its ancient magic.

Craig Mullen: It’s not bad… with a little Campanian wine.

Narrator: The treasure the crew has found off the coast of Ventotene has given them appetite for more adventure.

They may just come back next year to add more pieces to the great jigsaw puzzle that is the history of the Roman Empire.

END

  • Mary Duke

    Fascinating discovery. Do they know if the Mortaria were marked, SOL?
    For Soller Mortaria?
    Plny Jr. wrote of Lucius Bellicus Sollers a former Praetorian Senator of Venito wanting a market on his land and it is written that he had a trade route on Meditteranean sea, which would lead to Majorca and
    Porte do Soller. There are also Copper Ingots marked SOL in Wales. Sollers had a manufacturing business of Soller Mortaria in an area of what is now Germany.

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