In Indian Ocean's Oldest Shipwreck, a Clue to Rome?

Archaeologists hope to learn more about a Rome-to-Asia trade route

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 5, 2014 11:30 AM CST

(Newser) – A 2,000-year-old shipwreck will soon slumber silently no more: This month, archaeologists are set to scuba-dive 110 feet down into the Indian Ocean to explore what is that ocean's oldest known shipwreck. It sits off Sri Lanka's southeast coast, and its story has only begun to be pieced together: It was first spotted in 2003, near the fishing village of Godavaya, and archaeologists hope the ship will offer firm proof of a trade route that thus far has been recorded only in the pages of literature and historical writings, LiveScience reports.

In the first century BC, Rome's annexation of Egypt gave it a route from the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean, a path discussed, for instance, in a Greek manual sailors might have used in the first century AD. But archaeologists "just don't have the ships" that would prove the existence of the route, says expedition leader Deborah Carlson. She doesn't expect to find a "smoking gun" that will verify the ship was bound for Rome, but hopes that the excavation will help establish that Sri Lanka was a key stop on the route. Another hope during the excavation, which is set to run through May: That they'll be able to raise part of the ship, place it in a pool, and carefully examine its contents there. (Click to read about a ship found closer to home.)

The Indian Ocean, off the southern suburban coast of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The Indian Ocean, off the southern suburban coast of Colombo, Sri Lanka.   (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
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