First Punic War

New secrets from 'Bay of the Pirates' warship that sunk 2,300 years ago

By Michael Bernstein - American Chemical Society

A new study puts some finishing touches on the 2,300-year history of the beak-like weapon that an ancient warship used to ram enemy ships in the First Punic War, the conflict between ancient Rome and Carthage.

The report, in ACS' journal Analytical Chemistry, also identifies a major threat that conservators must address in preserving this archaeological treasure for future generations.

Patrick Frank and colleagues explain that the ram, called a rostrum, was found in 2008 under 22 feet of water, 150 feet offshore from Acqualadrone (which means "Bay of the Pirates") in northeastern Sicily.

The Acqualadrone rostrum is bronze, with a wooden core that was preserved because of burial beneath the seafloor.

Carbon-14 dating suggests that the warship sank around 260 B.C. after being damaged in the battle of Mylae during the opening stages of the First Punic War, which may have been among the largest wars of its time.

Earlier research localized the metals in the bronze to mines in Spain or Cyprus.

The authors, from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University and the University of Palermo, set out in the new research to learn more about the origin and condition of the rostrum wood.

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