We Are Sailing (Roman Style)

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Lagoon Navigation: 2000 Years of Secrets Revealed by the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia, La navigation lagunaire. 2000 ans de secrets révélés par le musée d’archéologie de Catalogne, Henri Prades Museum, Lattes, France

An unexpectedly excellent exhibition on Roman ships at the museum of Lattes in the summer of 2018 was extremely educational.  Not only were there some fascinating survivors of the Roman period relating to ships, but there were also informative explanations of how they actually built them, which involved some hands-on displays.  To lift the sails, and smell the wood fresh from a carpenter’s workshop, made for a vivid sensory experience. and as an IKEA fan, I found this good fun – it is so much easier to understand things like construction when you actually have a go yourself.

The exhibition was created by the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia, on the back of underwater archaeologists in Catalonia excavating two flat-bottomed commercial vessels from 2012 to 2016: the Cap del Vol and the Cala Cativa I.  The conservation of the wooden parts of these boats was extraordinary and the discovery made it possible for construction techniques to be studied and naval design to be better understood.  The objects were presented to the public for the first time in 2017.

The exhibition was adapted to Lattes with the inclusion of objects from local French museums, most prominently Narbonne, which was an important port in the Roman period.  In ancient times, the coast from Catalonia to the Languedoc was dotted with inland ports which connected to the sea via complex lagoon routes.  Flat-bottomed boats such as the two recently discovered could navigate the route, particularly useful for transporting Catalonian wine up into France.

So In Summary

Trade and seafaring were important in the Roman world, so it was really great to see an exhibition that looked exclusively at this area.  This exhibition was particularly great because we got to see the kind of random remains that usually aren’t on display in museums – things like pulleys and the rings for the sails.  It was a real eye-opener for me, and I was struck again by how amazing the Romans really were and how amazing modern archaeology is to be able to find and save these fragile wooden objects – and the woollen hat!  I hope a good permanent home is found for these marvellous Catalonian objects so that more people can admire the ingenuity of Roman seafarers.

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