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Guanabara Bay Evidence: Did the Romans Reach the New World Before Columbus?
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SCIENCE & TECH:
Guanabara Bay Evidence: Did the Romans Reach the New World Before Columbus?

There are many pieces of historical evidence that have a special place in every person’s memory. Christopher Columbus and his earliest exploits are some of the notable adventures which have been etched in our minds. However, a discovery made in 1982 in Brazil appears to paint a completely different story. After all, one of the most famous explorers in history might not have been quite the early bird we thought he was. The discovery of ancient Roman ruins in Guanabara Bay, situated roughly around 15 miles from the coast of Rio de Janeiro, creates a bit of a puzzle.

The discovery of the ancient  Roman artifacts comes in the form of a large collection of amphorae. Amphorae are tall jars and were frequently carried in Roman ships around the second century BC. The archaeologist Robert Marx discovered the ruins, adding another laurel to his long list of achievements in unearthing treasures from the depths of the seas. 

Pedro Alvares Cabral (George Mathias Heaton (1804 – after 1855) and Eduard Rensburg (1817–1898) /  Public Domain )

In most of the cases, Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral is known for being the first European to discover  Brazil. The estimated time when Pedro arrived in Brazil is the year 1500. Interestingly, Robert Marx also claimed that Brazilian authorities served many roadblocks in his initiatives to obtain permits for excavating the site. These details are clearly reflective of a lot of mystery surrounding who arrived first in Brazil: The Romans or the Portuguese. 

The Mystery of Guanabara Bay 

Guanabara Bay lies in the southeast region of Brazil off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, on Brazil’s Atlantic coast. It is renowned for being the second largest bay in Brazil. Around 15 miles from the shore, located in 100 feet of water and covering a space spanning almost three tennis courts, you can find a strange detail. There appear on the seabed relics of ancient  Rome distributed throughout the area, clearly far away from home. At the same time, their discovery also creates many doubts regarding historical accuracy.

Roman Amphorae (Salvatore / Adobe Stock)

Roman Amphorae ( Salvatore / Adobe Stock)

The spot first received attention in 1976, with lobster divers suggesting reports of ancient jars covered in barnacles at the bottom of the bay. Within a short period of time, a diver by the name of Jose Roberto Teixeira actually brought evidence of the same by producing two jars. The jars turned out to be made of  ceramic material and were tall and tapered in shape. 

The jars were known as amphorae and were primarily used by ancient  Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans. These jars or amphorae served as useful in carrying essential commodities such as water, grain, wine, or oil during sea voyages. 

Robert Marx: A Life Less Ordinary

The man behind the discovery of Roman ruins in the Guanabara Bay, Robert Marx, has quite an interesting story. A maritime archaeologist by profession, Robert F. Marx was able to silence critics with his discovery by proving people wrong who believed that the discovery was a hoax. The work of Robert Marx along with three other partners in the Brazilian agency, Fenicia Pesquisas Arqueologicas, helped in bringing out a massive count of underwater relics to public recognition. Interestingly, Robert Marx also linked the discovery to an  ancient shipwreck  for establishing historical accuracy. 

Four decades later, the discovery by Robert Marx continues to be a significant discovery in the domain of underwater archaeology. After many exploratory dives, Robert Marx established that the ruins were from an ancient shipwreck, with apparently Roman features. Marx had stated that he dug one meter (3 ft) deep in the mud with his hands to uncover pieces of amphorae. In addition, Marx also found some pieces of amphorae attached to coral and rock formations. 

Guanabara Bay

Guanabara Bay (eutrophication&hypoxia /  CC BY 2.0 )

Robert Marx provides a lot of credibility in the story of ancient Roman ruins in the Guanabara Bay. The man from  Florida had around 2,000 excavations on land and water to his credit. If that was not enough, he has also uncovered two of  Columbus’s ships on the seabed of the  Caribbean. Most interestingly of all, he even helped in discovering the bones of Christopher Columbus himself in a cathedral in Spain. The  Spanish Crown knighted Robert Marx for reiterating the voyage of Columbus, including the detailed costumes alongside 15 th century technology. 

Pre-Columbian Exploration of the Americas

As the evidence of foreign discoverers arriving in the Americas now potentially goes back to the Romans, history requires a new perspective. Many explorers had apparently already found their way to the New World before Columbus in 1492. As a matter of fact, many of the explorers were almost a thousand years ahead of Columbus in exploring the Atlantic as well as  Pacific sides of North and South America. 

The explorers also established colonies and complex trade routes. The amphorae discovered among the ancient Roman ruins in Guanabara Bay showcase the possibilities of trade exchange of different commodities. 

The Sceptics Assemble

Although Robert Marx presented a completely new viewpoint of history and the exploration of the Americas, his work was largely criticized. Many did not think that Robert Marx was actually an archaeologist. One of the most notable criticisms of Robert Marx is that he was interested in treasure and glory rather than discovering new data and understanding it. 

Robert Marx (left) in 1982 (Omri Linder and Family album / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Robert Marx (left) in 1982 (Omri Linder and Family album /  CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The most scathing critique of Robert Marx has been presented in an article by Jonathan Kirsch in the L.A. Times. Jonathan pointed out that Marx created and exaggerated findings in the world around him for supporting the narrative he wanted to present. In addition, he also accused Robert Marx of being banned from Brazilian underwater sites, due to theft of artifacts from the seabed. 

What Actually Happened?

There is much evidence that the jars were from a Roman shipwreck. On the other hand, some sources also question whether Robert Marx was the esteemed archaeologist everyone thinks him to be. Until definitive proof is provided either way, the mystery about the supposedly ancient Roman ruins in Guanabara Bay remains a topic of interest. Do the jars actually reflect back on a history of Roman voyages to South America? Just like many other mysterious historical discoveries, the Roman ruins of Guanabara Bay continue to entice many knowledge seekers.         

Top Image: Roman Trireme. Source:  Elenarts / Adobe Stock

By Bipin Dimri

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