A Tot of Pot
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Our Fascinating Earth

"A Tot of Pot"

Diving using self—contained underwater breathing apparatus came of age during World War II, and many postwar uses for scuba gear were developed, including submarine archaeology. Employing this form of exploration, divers have found many ancient wrecks. Most of the discoveries have been cargo ships, since heaps of cargo leave a noticeable protrusion in the sand that covers the ship. Long ships used in warfare are less apt to be preserved, and with flat decks, they are seldom located.

It was therefore with considerable surprise that one group of divers realized that their discovery, under only eight feet of water, was a Carthaginian warship. The ship, which had been rammed and sunk in shallow waters off Sicily, was a casualty from the First Punic War, 264—241 B.C. The adversaries were Carthage and Rome, as Rome attempted, via three Punic Wars between 264 and 146 B.C., to wrest control of the Mediterranean Sea from the North African colony.

The ramming impact was so powerful that the ship's stern had been driven into the hard, sandy bottom near the shore. Since the water was shallow, the prow of the ship must have protruded above the surface after sinking. But sand moves more rapidly in shallow water, so this protective covering kept the buried wooden portions of the ship from decaying for over twenty—two centuries. Because the water was not deep enough to be attractive to divers, the wreckage remained undisturbed.

Piles of ballast stones found in the sand near the wreckage were the first indication that the sunken timbers belonged to a warship. Since the deck of a military ship must be kept clear for action, it carried no cargo, and ballast stones were essential for stability. There would be no solid cargo to show evidence of wreckage after the hull was flattened and buried.

The wreck, which the discovery team called "The Punic Ship," revealed much information about the ships themselves and about what life was like for the men on board. Some forty feet of keel, portions of both port and starboard, and the sternpost were discovered. Being upright, the sternpost was a rare discovery and one of great significance, because it enabled the researchers to calculate the shape and size of the original vessel. It could carry sixty—eight oarsmen (two per oar) and any number of fighting men.

Fragments of human bones and those of a small dog were found in the bottom of the hull. Ballast stones had tumbled on them, preventing the remains from being dispersed. Because no remnants of battle equipment were found, it appears that most of the crew men escaped by scrambling ashore with their weapons. Other valuable items may have been salvaged before the exposed parts of the ships had rotted away.

The store of food and crockery for the crew remained with the wreck until its discovery. The crocks were small, suitable for individual quick snacks. Also included among the artifacts were some amphorae, containers that usually carried wine or water. The remnants of food seem to indicate that the soldiers grappled for their rations like fighting carnivores. Butchers had trimmed meat from bones of a variety of animals, and it was apparently served to the soldiers either raw or, at most, slightly singed.

Surprisingly, the most abundant find was a number of baskets of yellow grass. There was so much of this plant material that a bagful was easily obtained, more than enough for laboratory analysis. The results confirmed that the material was most probably Cannabis sativa, known today as marijuana and referred to more popularly as "grass," "pot," "weed," "Mary Jane," and a host of other terms.

What can one conclude from abundant supplies of marijuana aboard a fighting ship? In the quantities that were found, it seems to have been a regular ration. Since most of the plant material was stems, which provide mild doses of the drug, it may have been used as a medication to reduce fatigue. Or the soldiers may have been encouraged to use the marijuana to become euphoric, to reach what is today known as a "high" to intensify their courage and fearlessness. The soldiers may have chewed on the stems and infused the weed into a tea.

It is well known that in the past the British navy commonly issued a "tot of rum" to its seamen. With the same purpose in mind, the Carthaginian navy might have dispensed a "tot of pot" to its soldiers as they prepared for battle. Small wonder that they lost!