The remains of a sunken warship recently found in the Mediterranean Sea may confirm the site of a major ancient battle in which Rome trounced Carthage.
The year was 241 B.C. and the players were the ascending Roman republic and the declining Carthaginian Empire, which was centered on the northernmost tip of Africa. The two powers were fighting for dominance in the Mediterranean in a series of conflicts called the Punic Wars.
Archaeologists think the newly discovered remnants of the warship date from the final battle of the first Punic War, which allowed Rome to expand farther into the Western Mediterranean.
"It was the classic battle between Carthage and Rome," said archaeologist Jeffrey G. Royal of the RPM Nautical Foundation in Key West, Fla. "This particular naval battle was the ultimate, crushing defeat for the Carthaginians."
The shipwreck was found near the island of Levanzo, west of Sicily, which is where historical documents place the battle.
In the summer of 2010, Royal and his colleagues discovered a warship's bronze ram - the sharp, prolonged tip of the ship's bow that was used to slam into an enemy vessel. This tactic was heavily used in ancient naval battles and was thought to have played an important role in the Punic fights.
The ram is all that's left of the warship; the rest, made of wood, apparently rotted away.
"There's never been an ancient warship found - that's the holy grail of maritime archaeology," Royal told LiveScience. "The most we have are the rams and part of the bow structure."
Yet a ram alone can reveal intriguing clues about what these archaic vessels were like.
"The ram itself gives you a good idea of how the timbers were situated, how large they were, how they came together," Royal explained.