WASHINGTON (Reuters) - DNA scraped from inside clay vessels show that a ship that sank off the coast of Greece 2,400 years ago was carrying a cargo of olive oil, oregano, and probably wine, researchers reported on Friday.
The new research may offer a way to analyze the long-gone contents of hundreds of containers, said Brendan Foley of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Writing in the Journal of Archeological Science, Foley and colleagues at Lund University in Sweden said they were able to get DNA sequences from the insides of two amphoras recovered in 230 feet of water in 2005.
The clay containers appeared empty, but the researchers decided to try testing for DNA anyhow. To their surprise, they got some -- and not the DNA they were expecting.
The island of Chios where the shipwreck was found was well-known in the ancient world as a major exporter of highly prized wines. But the two amphora in fact carried DNA from olives and oregano.
They also found evidence of wine and perhaps pistachios, they said.
Foley hopes to use the technique to find out more details about the ancient shipping trade.
"Imagine if you were asked to analyze the American economy just by looking at the empty shells of 40-foot (12-metre) shipping containers," he said in a statement.
"You could say something, but not much."