Date: End of the 3rd century AD
Vessel: Roman merchantman
Cargo: amphoras, vaulting tibes, tableware, possibly grain
Depth: 94 meters
Origin: North Africa
Site SI06-AA Findings
During anomaly verification in 2006, an E-W oriented wrecksite, approximately 18 x 6 m in dimension, was discovered on a flat sandy stretch of seafloor at a depth of 94 m. It was comprised of ceramics, concretions, and possibly hull timbers. Located among the loose ceramic material is a distinctly square-shaped deposit of about one-square meter in size, that is comprised of large African amphora sherds, a few pieces of tableware, and over 100 tubi fittili (or vaulting tubes) visible on the surface.
This site represents a Roman merchantman laden with food stuffs and construction materials that was en-route from N Africa to the Italian mainland when it met its demise at the end of the 3rd century AD. Easily-identifiable amphoras were left in situ, while several pieces of tableware and four vaulting tubes on the surface were raised for analysis and identification. Among the tableware items collected were a coarseware plate, flagon, and small table amphora.
Amphora types visible on the surface included African 2B, African 2D, Riley MRA1, Almagro 51C, Ostia 1 – 455, and Dressel 30-Mauritanian. Likewise, the majority of the types identifiable on the site have a Tunisian production area. The variety of amphoras on the site’s surface have circulation dates that overlap the end of the 3rd century CE and combined with the great number of large cylindrical body sherds on site indicate a N African origin of the cargo. Food stuffs contained in these amphoras were likely wine and fish products.
Another intriguing element of the cargo was the consignment of vaulting tubes. Such tubes were used in the initial formation of arches or vaults; after forming an acceptable shape, they were taken down and reassembled with a light mortar. Afterwards, concrete was poured over the form and the interior was covered with plaster. Four tubes were collected for recording and analysis, each of these located just off the side of the square deposit on the eastern portion of the site.
The Levanzo I wreck offers other important contributions towards the questions of exchange and redistribution during the late 3rd century CE as well as the dissemination of architectural technology. Direct evidence for the heavy shipment of goods from N Africa to Rome-Ostia during the Imperial period has been well established through amphora finds in Rome and Ostia. This trade and redistribution were part of the annona system. The major foodstuffs carried along this particular route were wine, oil, grain, and fish products. There was a rise in N African imports to Rome in the 3rd century, and after a split in annona supply by Constantine, N African supply sources overwhelming dominated Rome-Ostia imports throughout the 4th century CE. The Levanzo I wreck’s cargo of wine and fish products has a N African provenience, and the conspicuous lack of remains in the center of the site may indicate that grain was part of its cargo.
Such a cargo mix, and its route from N Africa towards the central region of western Italy, indicates this vessel was possibly engaged in an annona shipment at the time of its sinking. When engaged in service for the annona, ship’s captains often included additional cargos such as coarsewares, finewares, and architectural materials in order to realize greater personal profits on these ventures. Tubi Fittili are not known to be part of annona shipments, but would be a logical personal cargo item.
Continued excavation and analysis of the Levanzo I site will help to address several research questions. Are there amphoras from other regions or of different types in the cargo? How large is the deposit of tubi fittili and are there other concentrations on the site? Is there direct evidence for grain as a cargo item? The removal of sand cover, collection and analysis of artifacts, and taking of sediment samples in future seasons will hopefully aide in answering these questions.