Archaeology Odyssey 8:1, January/February 2005

Field Notes

Archaeology Odyssey

Ancient Boats, Temple, Unearthed in Naples

It looks as though the decades-long construction of the subway system in Naples, Italy, has encountered yet another delay—but this one has been enthusiastically greeted by local Neapolitans and archaeologists alike. While digging at the Piazza del Municipio, a busy square in central Naples, construction workers unearthed the remains of two cargo ships and a fishing boat dating about the late first century A.D.

“Two of the boats were abandoned near a jetty and the third was possibly smashed against a pier in a storm,” said archaeological team leader Daniela Giampaola. The shoreline of the ancient port city of Neapolis, now located beneath Naples’s busy streets, had shifted by the fifth century A.D., eventually burying the vessels in a bog.

Last September archaeologists encased the two well-preserved cargo ships—each about 35 feet long and weighing 20 tons—in fiberglass, hoisted them up using a massive crane, and transported them to a lab in nearby Piscinola for analysis and restoration.

The Piazza del Municipio site has also yielded numerous other artifacts, once covered by 20 feet of silt. Excavations have turned up funerary urns, perfectly preserved amphoras with intact cork stoppers, and even the marble head of a Roman emperor—probably Nero (54–68 A.D.).

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