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Ancient Greek ship raised off Sicilian coast

Divers recover fourth wreck near Ancient Greek colony of Gela

13 August, 17:35
Ancient Greek ship raised off Sicilian coast (ANSA) - Caltanissetta, August 13 - A team of volunteer scuba divers have successfully raised the remains of a ship from the seabed off the coast of Sicily, adding to a growing collection of salvaged wrecks from ancient times.

The wooden wreck, thought to be an Ancient Greek trading vessel, was brought to the surface in a complex operation involving 15 divers and lasting several hours on Thursday morning. The vessel, located around 2 kilometres away from the southern Sicilian town of Gela and 150 metres from shore, was the latest in a series of underwater finds in this area over recent weeks. A four-metre wooden girder was brought to the surface a few days ago, probably once part of the ship's keel. A month ago, the same spot yielded up around a dozen amphorae and pieces of pottery, which were probably on board when the boat sank. The vessel has been taken to shore and placed in a massive desalination tank. After the desalination process, expected to last a few days, archaeologists from Palermo council will be able to start examining the remains.

The first step will be calculating the age of the ship, although initial estimates indicate it is at least 2,000 years old. Assuming its age is confirmed, the wreck would be the fourth ancient vessel recovered in the seas around Gela, which was a thriving Greek colony in ancient times. The first and most impressive ship was spotted by scuba divers in 1988 although it was another 20 years before the two-stage recovery operation was complete. This vessel was 21 metres long and 6.5 metres wide, making it by far the biggest of its kind ever discovered.

Archaeologists believe the ship sank in a storm some 800 metres off the coast while transporting goods from Gela back to Greece in around 500 BC.

The vessel has provided a unique opportunity to study Greek naval construction techniques thanks to the miraculous discovery of still-intact hemp ropes used to 'sew' together the pine planks in its hull - a technique described in Homer's Iliad.

The pieces of the ship were taken to Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, where experts at the Mary Rose Archaeological Services preserved and reconstructed the vessel.

Since then, a further two ships have been brought to the surface, the second of which discovered accidentally during the laying of a transcontinental gas pipeline. Although neither is as grand as the first vessel, Gela is now racking up an impressive collection, which local authorities hope to make the most of. The eventual plan is to build a sea museum to showcase the ships and raise money for further exploration of the area's underwater treasures. Gela was founded by settlers from Rhodes and Crete in the late 7th century BC and reached its pinnacle under the tyrants Hippocrates and Gelon, who also conquered neighbouring Syracuse.

The city's political importance gradually waned although it continued to enjoy a major cultural influence for decades and the Greek playwright Aeschylus spent the last years of his life there. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times before finally being reconstructed by the Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1233.

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