A 2,200-year-old shipwreck is a haven for marine life

The first study of marine life on an ancient wreck in the Mediterranean has found the ship was home to more than 100 underwater species, giving researchers insight into how marine life builds stable colonies over decades on artifacts archaeological.

A sea battle on March 10, 241 BCE off the northwest coast of Sicily near the Aegadian Islands saw a Roman Republic-manned fleet destroy a Carthage fleet, ending the First Punic War in favor of Rome, according to a statement.

In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers examining the remains of the sinking of a Carthaginian galley from the historic battle found 114 species of marine animals co-existing in a “complex community” on the bronze battering ram of the gallley.

Ancient sea battles often involved fighting ships that crashed into each other in order to sink the opposing side or boarding the other ship to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Rams, often cast of different metals, were placed on the forward prow of ships to help create as much damage as possible when striking.

“Wrecks are often studied to track colonization by marine organisms, but few studies have focused on ships that sank more than a century ago,” said the study’s lead author, Sandra Ricci, in the press release. “Here, we are studying for the first time the colonization of a wreck over a period of more than 2,000 years. We show that the ram came to host a community very similar to the surrounding habitat, due to the “ecological connectivity” – the free movement of species – between it and the environment. »

The ship’s ram was recovered in 2017 from the seabed about 90 meters deep and dubbed “Egadi 13”. It consists of a single hollow bronze piece that is engraved with hitherto indecipherable Punic inscriptions, the study notes. It is about 90 centimeters long, five centimeters thick at the front edge and weighs 170 kilograms or about 375 pounds.

The find was cleaned and restored in 2019, and as part of the restoration process, all marine animals living in and on the ram were collected along with hardened biological materials and sediment blocks. These samples were then studied, comparing the species present on the ship’s ram with those found in natural Mediterranean habitats, piecing together how the ram had been colonized over the years.

The researchers found 11 species of living invertebrates, including 33 species of gastropods (snails and slugs), 33 species of polychaete worms (sea worms with bristles along their bodies), and 23 species of bryozoans (commonly called “animals of moss”, invertebrates with tentacles). that filter the flow).

This collection of species is most commonly found in shallow water habitats, well-lit seabeds, coralligenous reefs and seagrass beds, according to the study.

“We infer that the main ‘builders’ of this community are organisms such as polychaetes, bryozoans and a few species of bivalves. Their tubes, valves, and colonies attach directly to the surface of the wreckage,” study co-author Dr. Edoardo Casoli said in the statement. “Other species, in particular the bryozoans, play the role of “binders”: their colonies form bridges between the limestone structures produced by the builders. Then there are the “dwellers”, who are not attached but move freely between the cavities of the superstructure. What we don’t yet know exactly is the order in which these organisms colonize shipwrecks.

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