Roman amphorae found in seafood shop in Southern Spain (images courtesy of Guardia Civil)

Civil Guard officers in the Spanish city of Santa Pola in the province of Alicante were conducting a routine food inspection at a frozen seafood shop when they came upon a rare archaeological discovery: 13 Roman amphorae that date back to the first century and an 18th-century metal anchor were on casual display.

“The agents saw various ceramic amphoras in different parts of the installation, a metal anchor and an engraved limestone plaque – all of which, at first glance, appeared to be of some considerable age,” the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) said in a statement.

According to local media reports, the vendor’s son says he found the items while fishing and brought them back to decorate his father’s seafood shop. The two are now being investigated by local law enforcement authorities.

The artifacts were moved to the local Museum of the Sea for an evaluation. According to the Civil Guard, archaeologists at the museums determined that all 13 ceramic vessels were Roman artifacts “of great heritage value” that date back to the first century. One of the items was deemed exceptionally significant, “due to its exclusivity.”

Among the seized objects, the archaeologists have also identified a limestone plaque engraved with the word “este” (the Spanish word for “east”).

Some of the amphorae were used to ship oil from Andalusia; others might have been used to store wine or Roman garum sauce

According to the museum’s experts, some of the amphorae were used to ship oil from Andalusia to Roma via Portus Ilicitanus, the modern-day seaport of Santa Pola. Others suggested that the vessels might have been used to store wine or garum, a Roman times sauce made from fish innards, herbs, and salt.

The Civil Guard suspects that the amphorae could have been looted from shipwrecks. If that is determined as the origin of the vessels, the vendor and his son could face charges of “crimes against historical heritage” and possession of illicit artifacts.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...