SAINT-GERVAIS 2 WRECK

The Saint-Gervais 2 wreck was discovered off Fos-sur-mer in 1978. A submarine salvage operation carried out that year and the subsequent study of artefacts dated the wreck in the VIIth Century A.D. and also revealed that the ship had been built using the "frame-first" construction method. This method has previously been found only on one other site, the Yassi Ada 1 wreck in Turkey. The latter method was less advanced than the one observed in the Saint-Gervais 2 wreck.

In fact, the bottom strakes were fitted onto the frames after the latter had been put in place. This is evident from the fact that the side planks are not attached to each other but are nailed directly to the ribs with iron nails, and from the strength of the longitudinal axis connecting all the timbers (floor timbers as well as half-frames) to the keel. The joints are reinforced using the same pins to fix a keelson which has been preserved at the stern and traces of which are visible at the bow, while keel plates fixed to the timbers support the mast-step in the centre of the ship.
The presence of a chain pump was, at the time, the only more or less complete evidence of the existence of this type of system, although fragmentary evidence has been found previously (discharge pipes, reception tanks, chain pump links, roller chock etc…) in other wrecks from antiquity.


Pump

The Saint-Gervais 2 wreck is the only one that shows, through its cargo of wheat, that sea trading of that commodity existed. This trade, moreover, is heavily documented in Latin literature.


Lamp or spatheion

Due to the shallowness of the site which no doubt meant that salvaging was carried out from the time of the shipwreck, there are very few artefacts but, on examination these are of paramount importance for they show us:
  • the last examples of African light sigillate (Hayes 108 and 109)
  • the latest morphological variants of both African and Eastern types of amphoras (spatheia, Keay VIIIA, Keay LXI, LRA 5-6)
  • a lamp reminiscent of the last ones produced in the VIIth Century because of the deterioration of its clay and decorations.


Although there were coins from the time of Heraclius of Carthage dated 611 - 612, the morphologic criteria established above lead us to date the site much later in the VIIth Century, perhaps even in the second half of that century. This wreck provides marine evidence, from the latest point in that century, that the flow of trade across the Mediterranean continued. A fact that archaeological excavations on land have already overwhelmingly shown.

Excavation and text : Marie-Pierre Jezegou, DRASSM : Photos : Marie-Pierre Jezegou et Musée Carnavalet