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Roman ships had on-board fish tanks

A piece of lead piping found in the hull of a Roman shipwreck may be part of a pumping system for keeping fish alive on board.

Historians have assumed that in ancient times fresh fish were eaten close to where they were caught, because without refrigeration they would have rotted during transportation. But if the latest theory is correct, Roman ships could have carried live fish to buyers across the Mediterranean Sea.

The wrecked ship, which dates from the second century AD, was discovered six miles off the coast of Grado in northeastern Italy, in 1986. It was recovered in pieces in 1999 and is now held in the Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Grado. A small trade ship around 16.5 metres long, the vessel was carrying hundreds of vase-like containers that held processed fish, including sardines and salted mackerel.

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Story: Jo Marchant | Photo: D. Gaddi / The Nautical Archaeology Society

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