Most recent update:3/1/2004; 6:09:51 AM

 Sunday, February 08, 2004

NUNTII: Roman Ships in Brazil

I've been on various email lists for well over a decade and it is interesting how things seem to resurface on a semi-regular basis. This morning, the thing that resurfaced on the Imperial Rome list was the story that a Roman shipwreck had been found near Rio di Janiero. The reference on the list was to an article from February, 2002 in Dockwalk, a magazine/ezine for the boating set, which has most of the standard details.

The story, in brief, goes something like this: fishermen working in Guanabara Bay kept bringing up strange pottery in their fishing nets. Eventually an "authority on Roman shipwrecks" named Robert Marx is called onto the scene to investigate. He finds amphorae (sometimes it's just the necks) which are given to an unnamed world authority on amphorae, who in turn, claims they were originally from Morocco. Other objects are sometimes said to have been found -- in the Dockwalk piece, these include
marble items and a fibula. Out of all this is built a story that some Roman trading ship based in the Azores was blown off course and ended up in Guanabara Bay -- it gains plausibility, supposedly, by noting that modern sailing vessels can make this trip in eighteen days. Then more details get added to the story, such as the discovery of a horde of Roman coins and the ever-popular tribe of blue-eyed blond 'Indians' as being somehow connected to the ship. Also sometimes thrown into the mix is a tiny terra cotta head which supposedly sports a Phrygian cap and so is thought to hail from Europe long before Columbus sailed (I'll deal with this at another time).

As far as I'm aware, none of this has ever been formally published in a peer-reviewed Classical/archaeological journal -- if it has, I would very much appreciate a reference. With that in mind, most of what I have been able to find out has come from the Internet. First of all, we should deal with the bona fides of the 'excavator' Robert Marx. He is not an academic and I think the jury is still out whether he warrants the moniker 'treasure hunter' or not. He certainly has dived on a large number of wrecks, as a sort of C.V.ish thing from an 'International Shipwreck Conference' shows. We should note the entry in that C.V. which pertains to this discussion (and which we'll return to):

51. Underwater archaeological survey conducted in Baia de Guanabara (Rio de Janeiro), Brazil, under auspices of the Naval Museum, on what is believed to be a possible Roman amphora carrier from the 2nd century BC. Three other shipwrecks found and surveyed on this site (16th, 17th and 20th centuries). September 1982 - February 1983.

Another page -- apparently his own -- gives further background; I note no university affiliation nor any mention of any publication in a refereed journal. On the other hand, an article from Diver magazine does give the impression that he is not interested in treasure hunting per se, although one wonders how he supports himself  (according to one piece, he gets a 75% cut of anything he does as a 'consultant', with the state getting 25%). There is also a very interesting thing to note:

Controversy follows Marx like a plague. One of his most frustrating experiences took place in Brazil in 198l with his discovery of a 2nd century BC Roman shipwreck near Rio! The Spanish and Portuguese launched a media blitz, accusing Marx of salting the site with amphorae and other artefacts from shipwrecks in Italy.
     Brazil succumbed to pressure and cancelled Marx's excavation permit, then covered the site with 5m of harbour sediment. Marx lost his temper in a meeting with the head of the navy, who also happened to be Brazil's Vice-President, and was asked to leave the country.

Okay, we're dealing with a controversial character who clearly has no ties to academe. That normally sets off alarm bells in my skull, but I'm going to ignore them for the time being and consider what was found. According to Science Frontiers Online, ultimately deriving from Omni Magazine (June 1983):

In 1976, diver Jose Roberto Texeira salvaged two intact amphorae from the bottom of Guanabara Bay, 15 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro. Six years later, archeologist Robert Marx found thousands of pottery fragments in the same locality, including 200 necks from amphorae.

Okay ... I think it is safe to say that Marx did find amphorae. He claims they're second century B.C.. I managed to find out who the unnamed world authority on amphorae usually mentioned in conjunction with the identification. According to the Mysterious Earth site, it was Dr. Elizabeth Lyding Will (whose credentials are definitely not questionable), who wrote a piece for Archaeology Odyssey (January/February 2000) which still lingers at the Internet Wayback Machine. Here's what they  quote, which comes from the end of the article:

The highly publicized amphoras Robert Marx found in the ship are in fact similar in shape to jars produced in kilns at Kouass, on the west coast of Morocco. The Rio jars look to be late versions of those jars, perhaps datable to the third century A.D. I have a large piece of one of the Rio jars, but no labs I have consulted have any clay similar in composition. So the edges of the earth for Rome, beyond India and Scotland and eastern Europe, remain shrouded in mystery.

If we believe our world authority, who appears to be dating things solely on stylistic grounds, we have a potential gap of 500 years in the dating (from Marx's 2nd century B.C. to her 3rd century A.D.). We can also throw into the mix a photo from some unnamed source which dates the amphora to ca. 100 A.D.. Where Marx gets his second century B.C. date from is beyond me, but it is interesting that he sticks to it in all the sites mentioned about. He's certain about 2nd century; our authority says much later. That is cause for suspicion.

I should also mention that I once saw a claim that the amphorae might have been part of the ballast of some ship that sank; this might seem plausible given that three other shipwrecks are found at the same site. However, as far as I'm aware, ballast in Spanish and other ships from the 15th century onwards tends to be stones (and it's the pile of stones that often leads to the discovery of a wreck). So let's discount that.

What no one seems to mention in any of these articles, however, and it makes me very suspicious, is that amphorae were used by the Spanish in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries to transport olive oil (and other purposes, I would imagine)! I think there is a knee-jerk response to see an amphora and automatically think that it must have come from some Roman or Greek source, but obviously such is not the case. A recent article in Athena Review, e.g., about the discovery of a Caravel which might be associated with Columbus' fourth voyage notes in passing:

Construction details have also helped date the ship. Its hull timbers, hammered together with wooden pegs, were not sealed in lead, which protected the hulls against wood-boring worms (such as had infested all four ships on the 1502-3 voyage). Lead sheathing became mandatory among Spanish shipbuilders by royal decree in 1508. Sherds from pottery amphorae for olive oil, typical of early 16th century New World voyages, have also come from the sunken vessel.

If you don't trust Athena Review, the Guardian has a similar report on the same discovery.

In other words, I am not sure why these amphorae are definitely identified as Roman. The fact that Elizabeth Lyding Will seems to only comment on the shape in somewhat vague terms suggests we do not have any markings on the amphora to definitely identify them as Roman. I can only think that the identification of Roman has come from the 'marbles' and/or 'fibula' which was supposedly also found there. I can also only think that Marx' insistence on a Second Century B.C. date must somehow be connected to the 'marbles' and/or 'fibula' as opposed to the amphorae. Finally, I can't help but recall that he was accused of seeding the site. Put it together for yourself ... I don't buy it.

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NUNTII: Very Nice Myth Site

This just in from the Australian:

THINK of Hermes as the patron deity of all couriers. Dispatched from Olympus by Zeus, Hera and company, the messenger-god would speed to earth on a natty pair of sandals with feathered wings attached.

A new ABC-Melbourne University web project which aims to bring the classics to every child of school age and every curious adult invokes the memory of Hermes in its title: Winged Sandals.

Three nights ago, at an up-market industry event in Sydney sponsored by the Australian Interactive Media Association, the site won the overall "best of the best" prize and was also awarded first prize for the best e-learning site for the past year.

The site won because of its rich animation, educational edge and its innovative partnerships between independent producers, the ABC and the university sector, particularly Melbourne University.

Integrating animation with solid scholarship, it offers digital story-telling to a potentially global audience and is believed to be a world first.

Students can now access the animated and interactive website Hermes is the navigator dedicated to the ancient gods and their eternal exploits. The ABC will market the site, which took 10 months to develop, to teachers through the year.

Rosie Allimnos, creative director of the project at ABC Online, describes it as a website targeted "primarily at children", that adults too should find engaging.

"We have avoided an oversimplified account of the stories, and have instead provided multiple layers of meaning."

The site relates the foundation myth of the Delphic oracle the god Apollo's slaying of the giant Pytho (or serpent) in a short cartoon. It goes on to provide oracular answers to students' questions.

Aiming to avoid what its producers describe as the "Disneyfication" of classical literature and legend, it also features a Who's Who of Greek myth, drawing on the expertise of Melbourne University's department of classics and archaeology. [more]

The site -- Winged Sandals -- is definitely worth a visit. I checked out the flash version, which did take a while to load on my ancient modem, and although Hermes the navigator has a real annoying voice (and questionable purpose), there's some good stuff here. E.g., I asked the Delphic Oracle "Will rogueclassicism take over the blogosphere" and I was given the response (after a suitable wait) "Blessed is Corinth, but I would rather come from Tenea". The response was glossed "Corinth was a wealthy and powerful city, Tenea a small town. Sometimes it's better not to be the most prominent". Interestingly, this is an actual response -- apparently -- which the oracle gave at some point, according to Strabo.

11:49:20 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

BLOGWATCH (and a rant): @ Hobbyblog

I probably don't mention Hobbyblog enough, where Ed is posting his ancient coins one at a time ... excellent photos and a brief description. Over the past week, for example, there have been some very nice Antoniniani, but last week's offerings were even better (in my opinion). I particularly liked the Salonina coin with the demanding brats on the obverse.

Now as I understand it, most, if not all of Ed's coins are of the sort that one would purchase and subsequently clean -- i.e. they are the sorts of coins which assorted folks claim should not be allowed to be sold on EBay or used as teaching materials by the ACE coins people. The motives for such posturing is, of course, noble -- most of these coins come from questionable sources in various European countries. "Scholars" never get to see them and purchasing them is seen as 'encouraging' the looting of archaeological sites. Of course, the reason the sources are questionable at all is because most European countries have bizarre laws about the discovery of antiquities and for the most part, whoever finds them doesn't get to keep them or get any benefit from them. So really, there is no incentive for the finder to be 'honest' or 'honourable' about what they've found.

At the same time, though, suppose a bucket of such coins are found during a legitimate archaeological dig. What happens to them? Well, generally, the big coins are weeded out, cleaned, and added to the collection -- perhaps filed away. The piles of other coins -- specifically the ones that you see on EBay -- get shoved into a drawer to rot or whatever it is that happens to such coins (I have been unable to find out; anecdotal reports suggest some are thrown out). Of course, there really is little incentive for a museum to clean and identify every single coin ... the effort required in terms of man/womanpower just isn't in proportion to what you know will be found.

And so, let's make a suggestion: why don't museums become more proactive in this? Why don't they make an effort to become the legitimate middlemen for coins of this sort? That is, why don't museums push for legislation which would allow folks who find a coin horde to bring it to a museum and get a fair price for it (in exchange for a provenance as well), something like the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme but a little more developed. Then museums could put the remainder on EBay and sell them with the provision that, e.g., any coin which is sufficiently cleaned be identified, photographed, and published on the internet, perhaps in blog form as at Hobbyblog -- proceeds from the coins could either pay for the upkeep of such a section of a website or could just be added to the general revenues of the museum. It seems to me to be a win-win-win situation for all parties involved ...

11:30:37 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Nuntii Latini

The latest headlines from YLE's Nuntii Latini:

Instrumenta communicativa coercentur

Controversia de insula Cypro

Peregrinatores conculcati

De rebus Russicis

Saakashvili munus suscepit

Russi tuberculosi laborant

Audi ...

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BLOGWATCH: @ Curculio

Michael Hendry has added some useful material to his sidebar at Curculio under the rubric Teaching Texts II. The texts included are a number of epigrams of Martial and one piece from Seneca which are at a level which students using Ecce Romani (or other such texts) could handle at various stages of their learning career. (See similiter Teaching Texts I if you've not made use of them before -- more Martial and a pile of Propertius too!)

10:56:37 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

BLOGWATCH: @ Hypotyposeis

Hypotyposeis has had some interesting items this week, but the one of most interest to folks with a Classical bent (especially those of you with webpages) will be a post about in-line glosses for Greek text on a webpage. Definitely worth a look.

10:50:22 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: CSA Newsletter

Here are the contents of the latest Center for the Study of Architecture/Archaeology Newsletter (Winter, 2004):

A Final Survey Experiment on the NW Wing of the Propylaea
Slightly less hi-tech, but more effective.

From One Context to Another: Building a Common Information Environment for Archaeology
Different users accessing data for different purposes. (William Kilbride)

Archiving Data from the Older Propylon Project
Important lessons learned. (Harrison Eiteljorg, II)

Note-Taking with Total Station Survey Work
Having the right survey coordinates isn't enough.

10:45:13 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

NUNTII: Roman Plumbing at Vindolanda

I thought I had posted this here already, but apparently I hadn't ... the BBC has a report on the discovery of some pipes at Vindolanda which appear to still be in working order. Here's the incipit:

The find has amazed experts at the Vindolanda Roman fort in Northumberland.

During ongoing excavations at the site, workers discovered a 100ft stretch of wooden mains, which at one time fed the fort with water from nearby springs.

The pipes were constructed by drilling large lengths of alder, which were joined together by oak pegs.

They were found under the floor of what is thought to have been an area used as a hospital in about 100AD.

Experts believe the network of pipes fed spring water to individual buildings within the fort.

A spokesman for the Vindolanda site said: "The fact that they were still working is quite incredible, but it was also a nuisance because they flooded the excavation trenches which had to be pumped out every day. [more]

10:41:03 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


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The Ancient World on Television



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AWOTV: On TV Today

7.00 p.m. |DISCU| Spear of Jesus
In the Hofsburg Museum in Vienna, Austria, lies a metal spearhead
said to have been used to pierce the side of Christ during his
crucifixion. For the first time, scientific testing will establish if
this ancient relic really is the Spear of Christ.

7.00 p.m. |HINT| Lost Civilizations: Rome: The Ultimate Empire
Sam Waterston narrates this Emmy Award-winning series that sweeps
through 7,000 years of history--from Ancient Mesopotamia to modern-
day Tibet--and transports viewers across the ages using dramatic
reenactments, location footage from 25 countries, and recent
archaeological discoveries to reconstruct the ancient past. In this
episode, we explore the glory of Rome--from founding to its zenith--
and march along as the Romans conquer the then-known world.

8.00 p.m. |HINT| Roman War Machine: First Our Neighbors, Then the World
It began as a group of farmers defending the village of Rome from
warring neighbors, and grew to conquer an empire stretching from
Scotland to Arabia. Joseph Campanella hosts this history of the first
professional army. In Part 1, early Rome throws off the shackles of
Etruscan domination and creates a republic with an army.

9.00 p.m. |HINT| Roman War Machine: Roman versus Roman
By 55 BC, the Roman army had conquered nearly all the Mediterranean
region. Rome's greatest general, Julius Caesar, stood on destiny's
brink. After conquering Gaul, he planned to invade a distant, strange
island--Britain. But soon, the Roman army would find itself embroiled
in civil war as Roman faced Roman over the Rubicon.

10.00 p.m. |HINT| Roman War Machine: Roman Siege Warfare
If any ancient people dared defy Roman demands to surrender town or
city, a large arsenal of technologically advanced siege weaponry may
have been among the last sights they witnessed on earth. For siege
warfare was one of Rome's greatest tools for winning and keeping
control of its empire. Joseph Campanella hosts.

11.00 p.m. |HINT| Roman War Machine: Barbarians at the Gate
By the 2nd century AD, the empire had expanded as far as it could.
Consolidation was at hand. Instead of plundering new territories, the
Roman army reconstructed them. Because the army was the first Roman
presence in a new land, the soldiers and their architects, surveyors,
and engineers built their own defenses...some lasting 2,000 years.

DISCU = Discovery Channel (US)

HINT = History International

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