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Roman shipwreck: Giant fish tank in a 2,000-year-old ship?

Roman shipwreck: Scientists say that an ancient Roman shipwreck had the plumbing for a salt-water aquarium.

Image

The hull of the Grado Roman shipwreck. The second-century ship spanned some 55 feet and held what scientists believe was a large, saltwater fish tank.

Courtesy of Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Friuli Venezia Giulia/LiveScience.com

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An ancient Roman shipwreck nearly 2,000 years old may once have held an aquarium onboard capable of carrying live fish, archaeologists suggest.

The shipwreck, which lay 6 miles (nearly 10 kilometers) off the town of Grado in Italy, was discovered by accident in 1986. Approximately 55 feet (16.5 meters) long, it dated back to the mid-second century and had a cargo of about 600 large vases known as amphoras that contained sardines, salted mackerel and other fish products.

Curiously, its hull possessed a unique feature — near its keel was a lead pipe at least 2.7 inches (7 cm) wide and 51 inches (1.3 meters) long. Why pierce its bottom with a hole that seawater could rise up?

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Scientists now suggest this pipe was connected to a hand-operated pump to suck up water. The aim? To keep a constant supply of flowing, oxygenated water into a fish tank onboard the ship. [Images of device and shipwreck]

"Historians think that before the invention of the freezer, the only possibility to trade fish was to salt or dry it, but now we know that it was possible to move it alive also for quite a long distance," researcher Carlo Beltrame, an archaeologist at Ca' Foscari University of Venice, told LiveScience.

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