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Full Shell of 2,000-Year-Old Roman Ship Discovered on Croatian Riverbed

On November 5, 2022, a remarkable discovery was made near the village of Sukosan in Croatia. After six years of systematic research, archaeologists from the City Museum Vinkovci and the Institute of Archaeology from Zagreb uncovered the fossilized remains of a Roman ship, along with evidence of a burial ritual involving two horses.

The site, known as the Barbir site, has long been speculated to hold valuable treasures. The discovery of the Roman ship, dating back to the 1st century AD, sheds light on the burial practices of wealthy families during that time. The ship, approximately three meters wide with a length of around five meters, was found preserved under layers of sand. Despite some damage caused by shipworms, the wood remains remarkably well-preserved due to its long-term burial in the sand for two millennia.

The Barbir site, initially discovered in 1973, had only been superficially documented until recent years. In 2017, more extensive research began, alongside the excavation of a Roman villa on the mainland. The underwater section of the site remained well-preserved and became the focus of the team’s investigation.

Over the past six years, the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology has collaborated with various institutions, including the German Archaeological Institute, Oxford, the University of Zadar, and the Archaeological Museum. Initially, the researchers examined the structure of the Roman pier, which had been constructed in two phases. The first phase, from the 1st century AD, indicated a smaller port based on numerous findings of ceramic vessels, amphorae, oil lamps, and glass fragments from different regions of the Mediterranean.

The second phase, which occurred in the middle of the 4th century, resulted in the formation of the present-day tongue-shaped structure of the port. Despite its exposure to the sea over time, the shape remains intact. The extensive trade during this period is evident from artifacts found, including items from North Africa.

Notably, the discovery of thirty bronze coins minted during the reigns of emperors Constantine II, Constans, and Constantius II provided valuable insight into the time period. These coins were found 150 centimeters below the present-day seabed level. The archaeologists’ excitement grew when they discovered a wooden board with a metal nail, leading them to hope that a ship might be nearby.

Last year, four squares with an area of four square meters each were excavated at the location, resulting in the discovery of the Roman ship. The vessel, dating to the late 1st or early 2nd century AD, followed the first phase of the port’s construction. This year, the research continued with the collaboration of the German Archaeological Institute, the University of Zadar, and archaeology students. Despite the small team size, the project yielded intriguing results.

The ongoing research promises to reveal more about the ancient family buried in the area 1,800 years ago. The study of the ship and its historical context will provide insights into the importance and wealth of this period. Through international cooperation, further details about the ship and its significance will be unveiled, adding to our understanding of Roman history in Croatia.