DISCOVERY OF CORAL IN THE DIG OF THE ROMAN CITY OF SANISERA (Menorca, Spain)

The student from Colorado College who discovered the coral in the Sanisera Field School.

The student from Colorado College who discovered the coral in the Sanisera Field School.

The Sanisera Field School undertakes each year a long campaign of archaeological excavations at the Roman city that was founded on the seashore of the natural harbor of Sanitja, at the north of the Mediterranean island of Menorca (Spain). In 2013, the intervention began in late March and passed along all summer, ending in late November. Currently, the whole collection of recovered objects is being studied, writing reports and surveys of the most important issues.

The first group of students discovered several interesting pieces. Among them, we highlight the surprising discovery of a fragment of coral that has motivated us to write some lines on our blog about it. It was discovered in early April and it surprised us all archaeologists because it was the first time we found something like that.

The fragment of coral was found in the stretch of a major city street separating an Early Christian basilica from of a building where the church community could stay. The piece of coral was possibly an ornament of a jewel that must be disassembled from a jump ring of one of the inhabitants, who lost it while walking through the streets at some vague time between V – VII centuries AD.

For the Roman world, coral was a very popular and difficult to acquire material. It had a special meaning. Its possession was like getting a gift that only the gods offered to the chosen ones.

Detail of the Roman coral fragment

Detail of the Roman coral fragment discovered in the process for dig in the Roman City of Sanisera

As archaeologists, we are forced to ask how this piece of coral could reach Sanisera. It is impossible to answer the question with just one answer, and even harder get the right one. As mentioned, the most logical theory is that one about the coral as a complement to embellished a jewel, made anywhere in the Mediterranean, and that somehow it was lost in Sanisera.

We also considered that perhaps people from Sanisera discovered directly the coral in a close beach, after being swept by waves during a strong storm, or maybe they were involved in a more organized collection of coral in Menorca.

We know that during the eighteenth century, the north coast of the island was known by coral traders and by those who fished it. Normally it could be found in the reefs near the coast over 10 meters depth, hidden in places sheltered from the currents, between small cracks or deep cavities. According to the classical author Pliny, the coral was typically collected by divers in apnea using sharpened knives.

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