PISA, Italy -- Archaeologists have raised a 2,000-year-old Roman ship from a muddy former riverbed packed with more than a dozen ancient boats just a short walk from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The 40-foot long ship is the largest and best-preserved of about 20 Roman vessels discovered by chance in 1998. The ships sank, probably due to floods, between the second century B.C. and the sixth century A.D. while docked on a long-vanished river tributary.
The vessel hauled up last month -- the second boat to be removed from the mud -- is remarkable because it is believed to be the only warship among those discovered. However, it is just one part of an extraordinary find that project director Andrea Camilli described as "an encyclopedia of ancient navigation."
In the still-buried merchant ships, experts have found almost-intact shipments of wine, food, clothes and construction materials from all over the Mediterranean. Among the most exotic finds were the remains of a North African lion, probably destined to delight spectators at a gladiatorial spectacle.
"We often have the wrong idea about ancient peoples: They traveled and traded just like we do today," Camilli said. "Although this harbor was relatively unimportant, we have found here products originating in faraway places such as North Africa or the valley of the Danube."
It will need to undergo a painstaking restoration over the next four years before being displayed in Pisa's newly opened Museo delle Navi, the Museum of Ships.