Ancient oil amphora found in Swiss riverbed

This buried artifact last saw the light of day during Roman times. © Archäologischer Dienst Des Kantons Bern, Sébastien Dénervaud

An archaeologist in Aegerten, northwest Switzerland, recently discovered a 2,000-year-old amphora, a ceramic vessel that was used to transport olive oil in Roman times.

This content was published on September 24, 2021 - 12:48

The amphora was found this spring in the bed of the old Zihl river. It was largely intact when it came to light, and has now been restored, the Bernese Department of Education and Culture said on FridayExternal link. The vessel is 73 centimetres high and 50 centimetres wide. It probably held at least 65 litres when full and is assumed to date from the first century AD.

Olive oil from the Roman province of Baetica - the region around the valley of the Guadalquivir in Andalusia, southern Spain - reached its destination in amphorae of this type, according to the statement. Distribution of these vessels extended from the western Mediterranean to Britain.

"The vessel is thus an indication of the adoption of Roman culture by the Celtic population on the Swiss plateau, who even then valued imported olive oil," writes the Bernese Department of Education and Culture.

The Department says this amphora could have fallen directly from an ancient transport ship into the riverbed of the Zihl at that time or been disposed of. It is known from inscriptions that in Roman times goods were transported on the waterways of the Rhine, Aare and Zihl, as well as the lakes of the Jura. They operated various port facilities near the site in Aegerten and in Studen.

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