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by Archaeology Newsroom

Ancient shipwrecks and their aftermath

In the article the author refers to the factors that cause a shipwreck and to the manner in which a sunken ship is destroyed. Bad weather conditions, fire, war, piracy or accident can mainly be held responsible for a shipwreck. From the moment the wreckage reaches the bottom of the sea, an oddly different and usually fatal phase of its life commences, that of of gradual decay. Microorganisms disintegrate the wood, while the relative heat oxidizes the iron parts. The geographical position and the depth in which the wreck lies also affect the ship’s preservation. A ship may sink on a hard rocky sea bed. If it happens to be sandy or muddy, then the wreck will slowly be covered by this moveable bottom material and will be preserved indefinitely. Soon after a sunken ship reaches the bottom, sails and shrouds come apart, the wood disintegration commences and finally in a period of ten to twenty years the ship splits in two under its own weight. The part remaining on the bottom being better protected will be preserved while the rest perishes. The best preserved wrecks, found so far, are those transporting merchandise, mainly amphorae, since the weight of the cargo stabilizes the wooden parts on the sea bed that are thereafter easily covered by sand and mud, which are natural preservation materials.