Ancient mariners' diet revealed

Last updated 10:15 13/08/2010
MAIN STAPLE: The sheer quality of olive stones found on a shipwreck has provided an insight into the diet of ancient mariners, researchers say.

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A huge quantity of olive stones on an ancient shipwreck more than 2,000 years old has provided valuable insight into the diet of sailors in the ancient world, researchers in Cyprus said.

The shipwreck, dating from around 400 B.C. and laden mainly with wine amphorae from the Aegean island of Chios and other north Aegean islands, was discovered deep under the sea off Cyprus's southern coast.

Excavation on the site, which started in November 2007, has determined that the ship was a merchant vessel of the late classical period.

"An interesting piece of evidence that gives us information on the conditions under which the sailors of antiquity lived, are the large numbers of olive pips that were found during excavation, since these pips must have been part of the crew's food supply," Cyprus's antiquities department said in a news release Thursday.

The excavation is shedding light on seafaring in Cyprus in antiquity, commerce between the island and the Aegean and the sizes of the period's cargo ships, it said.

Olives and olive oil are a staple of the Mediterranean diet and their consumption over hundreds of years has been well documented.

Italian archaeologists discovered that some of the world's oldest perfumes, made in Cyprus, were olive oil based. The commodity was also used to fire copper furnaces.

Apart from the amphorae, or large clay wine jars, two lead rods with remains of wood were found.

"This especially rare find enhances the importance of the shipwreck and strengthens the possibilities of finding preserved wood from the ship's keel," the department said.

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- Reuters

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