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Italian researchers find more than 100 species living on 2,200-year-old shipwreck

K. Egorov / Società per la Documentazione dei Siti Sommersi – Global Underwater Explorers (SDSS-GUE)

Story at a glance

  • Italian researchers found a piece of ancient shipwreck hosting an abundance of marine life in 2017.
  • The ram of Carthaginian galley was extracted from the seabed 90 meters below the water’s surface off of the coast of Sicily then restored in 2019.
  • Researchers examining the 114 species that built a home on the ram say it is the first time marine life on a “very ancient shipwreck” has ever been studied and could shed light on how coexisting species build communities.

Italian researchers found 114 marine animal species existing in harmony on ancient remains of a sunken ship from Carthage. 

According to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers found the species coexisting in “a complex community” on the ram of a Carthaginian galley that sank in battle off of the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea in the Mediterranean more than 2,000 years ago. 

The ram offered scientists a “unique window” into how marine life colonize empty sites and eventually build stable and diverse communities and was the first time researchers studied marine life on an ancient shipwreck.


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Out of the 114 species found living around and in the ram, scientists found 33 gastropod species, 25 bivalves, 33 species of polychaete worms and 23 species of bryozoans, which had created something akin to coral reef. 

“Shipwrecks are often studied to follow colonization by marine organisms, but few studies have focused on ships that sank more than a century ago,” Sandra Ricci, a senior researcher at Rome’s ‘Istituto Centrale per il Restauro’ and author of the study, said in a statement.

Researchers found that the ram ended up hosting a “community very similar to the surrounding habitat” due to the free movement of species “between it and its surroundings,” according to a statement

Finding the ram was a remarkable archeological discovery as well as a scientific one. The ram, named “Egadi 13,” was discovered in 2017 by marine archeologists from the “Soprintendenza del Mare della Regione Sicilia” with the help of divers from Global Underwater Explorers, according to a release. 

The ram is a single, hollow piece of bronze about 3 feet long with undeciphered Punic inscription engravings and was cleaned and restored two years after its discovery. 

In order for the ram to be cleaned and restored, the marine animals living on it were collected along with the hardened sediment and other biological materials that had accumulated on the artifact. Researchers from the “Istituto Centrale per il Restauro,” the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy’s National Interuniversity Consortium for Marine Science and National Research Council and the Sapienza University of Rome studied the animals. 

“Younger shipwrecks typically host a less diverse community than their environment, with mainly species with a long larval stage which can disperse far. By comparison, our ram is much more representative of the natural habitat: it hosted a diverse community, including species with long and short larval stages, with sexual and asexual reproduction, and with sessile and motile adults, who live in colonies or solitary,” Maria Flavia Gravina, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“We have thus shown that very old shipwrecks such as our ram can act as a novel kind of sampling tool for scientists, which effectively act as an ‘ecological memory’ of colonization.”


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