For decades, the discovery of Roman artefacts found in a bay near Rio de Janeiro puzzled explorers and historians alike.
A discovery made in 1982 appeared to rewrite history after underwater archaeologist Robert Marx found a collection of tall jars, known as amphoras, that were carried by Roman ships in the second century BC. They were found in Guanabara Bay, 15 miles from the iconic city.
The amphoras were used to carry wine, oil, water or grain on long voyages. Marx thinks they may mark the wreck of a Roman ship that could have reached Brazil 17 centurries before Portuguese adventurers.
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Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral is generally credited as the first European to reach Brazil in the year 1500. But Marx – a well-known hunter of sunken treasure – said his efforts to prove the area had been discovered earlier were thwarted, claiming Portuguese authorities refused to issue him a permit to excavate the wreck he believed was buried there.
Marx, who wrote many books and articles on early exploration and underwater archaeology, believes the amphoras were carried to Brazil on a Roman ship that was blown off course. It may have anchored off Rio, then been driven by a storm onto the reef near where the amphoras now lie.
Marx told reporters at the time that he suspected a hoax when he first heard of the amphoras, but was convinced a few days later when he dived at the site and saw an area comparable to three tennis courts strewn with jars, most of them broken. He brought some to the surface to have their age and origin authenticated by specialists.
"The amphoras could not have been planted there," he said. "Four intact amphoras and parts of at least 50 more are on the surface."
For years he has sought to prove that Europeans reached the Americas long before Columbus. But doubt has been cast upon the theory as the Romans traded mainly in Mediterranean port cities and the Middle East, and therefore did not have much motivation to invest in transoceanic ships.
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However, they did venture as far as India, possibly due to a navigator's error or mutineers' direction westward. The answer may never be known as Brazil closed the Bay of Jars to further research in 1983 in an effort to "deter looters."
Marx claims the government didn’t want the area explored because finding Roman-era artifacts there would mean that, contrary to Brazil’s official history, the Portuguese were not the first Europeans to reach the country. So for now, the truth continues to rest 100 feet under the sea.
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