A marine archaeologist examines the10-litre wine amphorae that either fell overboard en route from Campania, or went down with the ship that has yet to be discovered

A plethora of amphorae

Some 17 2,300-year-old amphorae have been retrieved from the Mediterranean, close to the island of Sainte-Marguerite, one of the Lerins Islands half a mile off the shore of the French Riviera and the city of Cannes.

Although a number of ancient shipwrecks and their cargo had already been discovered in the area in the past 50 years, this deposit is exceptional in so far as it can be dated from the end of the 3rd century BC. Only four deposits from that time have been found in the French Mediterranean, all the others date from the 2nd century BC onwards. This was the time of the Roman Republic, the Mediterranean was far from peaceful and trade was not yet much developed.

The Greek-Italic type amphorae lying some 20 metres deep under the sea, were extricated by Anne Joncheray, Head of the Saint-Raphael Archaeological Museum, and her team of marine archaeologists. The finds are in very good condition, but all the stoppers are missing and there are no potters' stamps to identify their origin precisely. There is also nothing to indicate their final destination. They were most probably part of a cargo of about 100 10-litre amphorae full of wine from Campania and bound for the various Greek settlements around the Mediterranean. Campania also produced amphorae for the local wine estates.

The ships used for this would have been around 15 metres long, but no trace of a ship has been found so far in the vicinity, although only an area of five square metres has been excavated during the first three-week campaign.

For the time being, it can only be conjectured either that they were part of the cargo and fell overboard en route, or that the wreck is lying some distance away. The disorder in which the archaeological goods were scattered seems to indicate that the ship had capsized. It is hoped that the next campaign will shed more light on the matter.

In the meantime, the rescued amphorae will be studied in depth, together with the Lerins Islands' marine palaeo-environment and historic context. In due course, these 17 amphorae will join the remarkable archaeological ollection already on display in the Cannes Musée de la Mer, on Sainte-Marguerite island.

The recent discovery could not have come at a better time for the Lerins Islands as they have recently applied
for UNESCO World Heritage status.

• For further details visit www.musee-saintraphael.com or www.cannes.com/fr/culture/musee-de-la-mer.html
Nicole Benazeth