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Roman shipwrecks unearthed at a Serbian coal mine

Researchers in front of one of the Roman ships discovered at the coal mine (Photo: Uryadovy Courier)

PortandTerminal.com, April 14, 2020

Coal miners in Serbia recently dug up an unexpected surprise: three probable Roman-era ships, buried in the mud of an ancient riverbed for at least 1,300 years.

BELGRADE, SERBIA – A Serbian news source, Uryadovy Courier, reported that coal miners in Serbia recently dug up an unexpected surprise: three probable Roman-era ships, buried in the mud of an ancient riverbed for at least 1,300 years.

The large ship had a single deck with at least six pairs of oars, along with fittings for a type of triangular sail called a lateen sail. It would have carried a crew of 30 to 35 sailors, and apparently it had a lengthy career: traces of repairs to the hull suggest a ship with some miles under it. Iron nails and other iron fittings held the ship’s timbers and planks together, and they’ve survived for centuries thanks to the silt and clay that sealed the ship away from oxygen and microbes.

Drawing of ancient Roman city of  Viminacium
The ships were found near the site of the ancient Roman city of Viminacium which dates back to the 1st century AD. At its peak, it is believed to have had 40,000 inhabitants, making it one of the biggest cities of that time

Two smaller boats, each carved out from a single tree trunk, match ancient descriptions of dugout boats used by Slavic groups to row across the Danube River and attack the Roman frontier.

READ: The insane Emperor Caligula’s two yachts

The Kostolac surface mine lies near the ancient Roman city of Viminacium, once a provincial capital and the base for a squadron of Roman warships on the Danube River.

PORT CITY PROFILE: Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port

When the Roman Empire ruled most of Southern Europe, the Danube or one of its larger branches flowed across the land now occupied by the mine. The three ships lay atop a 49-foot-deep layer of gravel, buried under seven 23 feet of silt and clay, which preserved them for centuries in remarkably good condition—or did until the miners’ earthmoving equipment dug into the steep slope to excavate for the mine.

For now, thanks to the pandemic, radiocarbon dating and further excavations are on hold.

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