Discovery of Roman Ships in ancient harbour in Pisa

Report on Channel 4 News (UK), 20th September 1999

In late 1998 a excavation for building work was begun at the train station in Pisa.
Italian law though dictates that for such work an archaeologist must be present in case the history drenched soil of Italy should be hiding another mystery.
In this case it did. Wooden beams were discovered which turned out to belong to largely intact hulls of Roman ships.
So far 16 ships and boats have been found.
Mainly they are trading vessels, but there is one trireme warship among them.

Pisa today lies on the banks of the river Arno, but in Roman days, it was met there by a second river which also formed a lagoon. This lagoon was used as a Roman harbour. The ships have been discovered in the area thought to be the former harbour.
It is assumed these are ships which sunk in the harbour over time in flash floods or storms.
Once having sunk to the ground, they sunk yet further as the lagoon's floor was some form of quicksand. This over time acted as a watertight muddy sealant which preserved the ships and their contents until today.

Hundreds of amphorae have been found so far, many of which the contents has been identified as fruits, grain and wine.
Fine glass bowls, perfume burners and oil lamps also have been unearthed. Furthermore many animal bones have been found; pics, cattle etc., most spectacularly a part of a lion's jaw, complete with one lion's fang, indicating that one of the boats must have been bringing a lion from Africa to be used in the circus games. Also a sailor and his dog have been found under a pile of amphorae. More than likely he and the animal were crushed by the cargo as the ship capsized.

Currently the archaeologists do not know how many more ships they are likely to find. But they are confident that more will be found. So far the dig has taken ten months. The preservation and complete investigation of the ships so far found before they can go on public display in museums may take up to five years.

At present the ships need to be constantly sprayed with water for the ancient planking not to dry out and crack.