Miguel Ángel Cau

Universitat de Barcelona (UB)

In the summer of 2019, after a strong storm, the Late Roman wreck of Ses Fontanelles appeared on one of the busiest beaches in Mallorca. The Consell de Mallorca promoted an agreement with the University of Barcelona, University of Cádiz, and University of the Balearic Islands to develop the project ARQUEOMALLORNAUTA (2021–2023) to study the shipwreck. The project is led by M.A. Cau, D. Bernal, J. Cardell and E. García.

The excavations have allowed recovering the cargo of the boat in an excellent state of preservation. Around 300 transport amphorae have been recovered. These are containers used to transport fermented fish sauce, oil, and wines or fruits preserved in vine derivatives. Many of these amphorae present painted inscriptions (tituli picti) and the original paleocontents, which is a unique occasion at a global level. The presence of around a hundred painted inscriptions makes the wreck of Ses Fontanelles the most extensive collection of tituli picti in Spain, and one of the most important in the entire Roman world. Part of the cargo could have been shipped by ecclesiastical authorities, as deduced from the inscription that appeared on the ceramic stoppers that sealed some of the amphorae, with names and with the Chrismon (or monogram of Christ). In addition, it is worth highlighting the typology of these amphorae since it has been possible to identify some unknown containers.

During the excavation, exceptional archaeological pieces appeared. This is the case of an arch drill used by riverside carpenters for the repair of the boat, the first of its kind in Spain and one of the few preserved around the World; two shoes (one of esparto and one of leather); ropes used in the boat and organic remains of diverse nature. We must also highlight the excellent state of preservation of the boat’s hull, thanks to the anoxic burial environment.

This is an exceptional shipwreck. It departed from Carthago Spartaria (Cartagena) or nearby and sunk in Mallorca in the initial phase of Late Antiquity (4th century AD). It is the first known Roman wreck with cargo from this region in Mediterranean waters.

  • References:
    – Munar Llabres S, Cardell J, de Juan C, Cau Ontiveros MÁ, Bernal-Casasola D, Picornell Ll & Garcia Riaza E 2022, ‘Ses Fontanelles Shipwreck (Mallorca, Balearic Islands): An Exceptional Late Roman Vessel and Its Cargo’, J Marit Archaeol, 17, 487–505
    – Soler i Nicolau A, Font Jaume A, Berni Millet P, García Riaza E, Bernal-Casasola D, Cau Ontiveros MÁ, Cardell Perelló J & Munar Llabrés S 2021, ‘El singular conjunto de tituli picti del pecio de Ses Fontanelles (Mallorca, islas Baleares) y su contribución a la epigrafía anfórica tardorromana hispánica’, Cuadernos de Arqueología y Prehistoria de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (CUPAUAM) 47(1), pp. 287-317.