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27Jun

Trading Live Fish

Archeologists studying a second century Roman shipwreck believe that an on-board fish tank was used to carry a cargo of live fish across the Mediterranean Sea. The shipwreck, discovered off the coast of Grado, Italy, was a small trading vessel, 55 feet long and 19 feet wide. Despite the ship’s small size, it is believed the on-deck, aft area, fish tank could have held 440 pounds of live fish, in addition to the 600 amphorae of processed fish found on-board.
           
Evidence for the fish tank comes from a lead tube discovered near the stern that leads to a hole in the hull. The lead pipe is 51 inches in length with a varying diameter of about 3 inches. It is believed that the tube must have been connected to a hand-operated piston pump as a means of moving water through the ship, however such a pump has not been found. While some suppose the pipe and pump would have been used to remove water from the bottom of the vessel, others find the placement of the hole in the ship’s keel incompatible with this theory. Others believe the pump would have been used for bringing in water to wash decks or extinguish on-board fires, however the small size of the ship would make this unnecessary.

Archeologists studying a second century Roman shipwreck believe that an on-board fish tank was used to carry a cargo of live fish across the Mediterranean Sea. The shipwreck, discovered off the coast of Grado, Italy, was a small trading vessel, 55 feet long and 19 feet wide. Despite the ship’s small size, it is believed the on-deck, aft area, fish tank could have held 440 pounds of live fish, in addition to the 600 amphorae of processed fish found on-board.

Evidence for the fish tank comes from a lead tube discovered near the stern that leads to a hole in the hull. The lead pipe is 51 inches in length with a varying diameter of about 3 inches. It is believed that the tube must have been connected to a hand-operated piston pump as a means of moving water through the ship, however such a pump has not been found. While some suppose the pipe and pump would have been used to remove water from the bottom of the vessel, others find the placement of the hole in the ship’s keel incompatible with this theory. Others believe the pump would have been used for bringing in water to wash decks or extinguish on-board fires, however the small size of the ship would make this unnecessary.
 
While fish tanks have not been found in other shipwrecks, it is know that the technology existed. Contemporaneous accounts by historian Pliny the Elder and the Greek writer Athenaeus show that the trading of live fish and the use of on-board fish tanks were possible and likely occurred. While more evidence is needed, the existence of on-board fish tanks would change our current understanding of the ancient fish market.
 
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