The Monfalcone wreck

Giulia Boetto, Franca Maselli Scotti

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The find location and the date of the vessel

In 1972, during the excavation of a large monumental complex, located in Lisert near Monfalcone (Trieste), possibly a villa rustica with bath, the wreck of an ancient ship was found. The villa was situated in a zone corresponding to the ancient island known from the presence of Roman bath complexes and from the words of Pliny's writings: "in the sea in front of the Timavo river, there is a little island with hot water springs".

The hull, located in the north of the building, lay on a rocky bottom and was covered with sandy sediments. As few diagnostic materials were found, the ship is dated, as the villa, between the first and third centuries AD.

Excavation, recovery and conservation treatment of the hull

The wreck was salvaged with the help of private companies (the "Siderurgica Monfalconese" and the "Laminati Lisert") building a large industrial area. Between 1973 and the following year, a wooden structure and a metallic frame were built in order to lift and to transport the ship. The hull was subsequently placed in a large, purpose-built tank behind the Lapidary Gallery of the National Archaeological Museum of Aquileia, where it was immersed in fresh water for seven years (from 1974 to 1981). In 1976, the ship suffered the effects of the 1976 earthquake, which caused of some structural deformations in the tank. Between 1981 and 1983, the hull was been treated with PEG, a water-soluble wax used in timber conservation.

The hull remains

Currently, visitors to the naval section of the National Archaeological Museum of Aquileia have the opportunity to admire the bottom of the hull which measures 10,7 m in lenght and 3,8 m in width. In the absence of structural evidence, such as the mast-step or stem and sternposts, or ship fittings, such as the anchors or bilge pump, it was impossible to establish which of the two extremities is the stern and which the stem.

The keel

The keel, rectangular in section, features hook scarfs at either end which connected to the stern and stem elements, which were not conserved.

The planking

Six strakes preserved on either side. The planks, which are rather thick (4.5/5.5 cm) and wide (between 20 and 40 cm), are joined with pegged tenons. It has been possible to identify several metal nails driven into the thickness of the planks and in the keel.

The frames

In the interior of the hull, there is no alternation between floor timbers and half-frames, although the frame is formed by floor timbers broken along the knee. The 32 conserved floor timbers are rectangular in section (average height 9 cm and width 11 cm), while their distance is 16.5 cm. The floortimbers are connected to the planking by wooden treenails, and also feature central and lateral limber holes.

The keelson

The keelson, 7.3 m long, has been driven on the floor timbers (the lower side of which has special recesses). The section is rectangular (max width 24 cm and height 12 cm). The upper side of the keelson has been provided with recesses for the deck stanchions (distance between 95 and 70 cm).

The hull sheathing

During the excavation, several small fragments of lead sheets were found, which might demonstrate that the hull was originally sheathed.

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