Exciting Finds and Findings

A story of the discovery and excavation of a mid-third century BCE Punic shipwreck, led by Honor Frost, a pioneer in the field of underwater archaeology

By Honor Frost Foundation

Archive images copyright of the Honor Frost Archive, Special Collections, University of Southampton

Metals - spade and knife (1974)Honor Frost Foundation

What was on board the ship when it sank?

Honor originally hypothesised that they were dealing with the hull of a military vessel, and was therefore surprised not to find any armaments other than a single knife blade.

However, given how shallow and close to shore the ship was, it would not have been difficult for items to have been salvaged.

Pottery (1974)Honor Frost Foundation

No weapons but plenty of ceramics

Pottery recovered from the site included a mixed assortment of amphoras, the two-handled containers typically used to carry wine or other foodstuffs. Jars, cooking pots, fineware and beakers were discovered in an area identified as the “kitchen”, as confirmed by fragments of two or three roof tiles.

The quantities of pottery were too small to be considered part of the cargo; instead they were thought to belong to the crew. 

Bone (1974)Honor Frost Foundation

What can the finds tell us about the crew?

Animal bones, including remains of ox, sheep/goat, fallow deer, pig and horse, give an indication of the crew’s diet. Two bones likely belonged to a dog, found near the central “kitchen” area of the site -- perhaps the ship’s mascot.

Human remains were also discovered. At least one person went down with the ship. These bone remains were found at the stern, suggesting that the person had been trapped when the ship sank.

Basket and Cannabis (1974)Honor Frost Foundation

Organic material

Fragile remains also survived

Fragile organic materials found at the site included nut shells, olive stones, twigs, leaves and other compacted vegetable matter, as well as large quantities of string and rope made of esparto grass.

Remains of baskets woven from sedge-like leaf fronds were also discovered. At least one basket contained previously dried stems of Cannabis sativa, possibly used to make infusions for the Punic sailors on board. 

Ribs and Prow of the Sister Ship (1974) by Honor FrostHonor Frost Foundation

The Sister Ship

The Most Exciting Find

Around 70 metres south of the ship, the team discovered a second wreck that also featured Punic lettering on the timbers.

In 1974 during the final season of excavation, the sand-bank that had covered the ‘Sister Ship’ shifted, exposing many of the timbers. Team member John Wood surveyed the remains and Honor documented the framework of a ram-like forward projection at the bow.

While the ‘Sister Ship’ was never excavated, one of its two prow 'tusks' was lifted; together with Honor's careful underwater measurements, this was later used in the hypothetical reconstruction of the Punic Ship. 

Credits: Story

This exhibition was created by the Honor Frost Foundation, archive images are courtesy of the Honor Frost Archive, Special Collections, Hartley Library, University of Southampton

The Regional Archaeology Museum of Lilybaeum-Marsala 

The Alagna Family and the Cantine Pellegrino winery of Marsala 

Claire Calcagno, Independent Scholar

Giulia Boetto, Centre Camille Julien, Aix-Marseille University, CNRS    

Grant Cox, Artas Media   

Lauren Tidbury, Honor Frost Foundation

Lucy Blue, Honor Frost Foundation

Mateusz Polakowski, University of Southampton

Pat Tanner, 3D Scanning Ireland Ltd/University of Southampton

Frost, H. et al., 1981, Lilybaeum (Marsala). The Punic Ship: Final Excavation Report. Notizie degli scavi di antichita, Supplement to Vol. 30 (1976), Serie Ottava. Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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