In the southeast region of the country of Brazil lies Guanabara Bay, off the coast of the major metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. It is the second largest bay in Brazil, but other than that there is nothing particularly special about it other than perhaps the large amount of pollution here. However, lying approximately 15 miles offshore, buried down in 100 feet of water across an area around the size of three tennis courts is a rather strange oddity. Here scattered along the bottom are various relics from ancient Rome, far from where they have any business being, and which have remained a baffling historical anomaly and conundrum that remains unsolved.
The unusual spot was originally first discovered in 1976, when some lobster divers reported having come across what appeared to be ancient, barnacle encrusted jars at the bottom of the bay. It wasn’t long before a diver named Jose Roberto Teixeira actually produced two of the strange artifacts, which were found to be a type of tall, tapered ceramic jars with two handles called amphorae, typically used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Phoenicians to carry around all manner of things such as wine, oil, water or grain during long sea voyages. This was certainly a rather odd thing to be pulled up from Guanabara Bay, as the first known European presence in Brazil is thought to date back to 1500, when Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral reached these shores.
The unusual find caught the attention of author, underwater archeologist, and treasure hunter Robert Marx, who in 1982 decided to try and locate more of the objects, along with the help of Dr. Harold Edgerton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Marx was able to get permission for his expedition from the Brazilian government and then went about combing the bottom of the bay with sophisticated sonar technology, peering down there through the waves to try and catch a glimpse of anomalous history. At first he was actually rather skeptical of the whole thing, thinking that the jars that had been found were hoaxes, but what he found was beyond anything even he could have expected.
After finding a promising spot, Marx dove down to find an accumulation of 200 amphorae found down there in the murky, heavily polluted water, where they had been for thousands of years, some on the surface and others buried deep, covered with muck, barnacles or even ensconced in coral and some of them entirely intact even after so many centuries lying there on the sludge of the bottom. It was a remarkable find to say the least, and it was thought by the team that these jars could not have been planted there in modern times, but were rather from some unknown, hidden past. It was Marx’s speculation that the mysterious jars had come from an ancient Roman ship, and he even claimed that there had been evidence of a possible wooden wreck buried down there, but if this was the case then how did such an ancient voyage manage to make it to Brazil many centuries before the first known European presence here, when the Romans were never known to have made it any farther than India in an era when South America might as well have been another planet across a sea of stars? These were things that Marx wanted to find out, and he went about trying to organize a further expedition to the area to uncover more information and look for any wreck that might be there or any other artifacts such as hull fragments, coins, or weapons, for as he has said, “If authentic, it would be one of the most important discoveries in the field of marine archaeology.”
In the meantime, Marx had the jars studied by experts, claiming that everyone who looked at them confirmed that they were from the 2nd or 3rd century and of Roman origin. One of these experts was a professor of classics and specialist in ancient Roman amphoras at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst a specialist by the name of Elizabeth Will, who has said of them:
The highly publicized amphoras Robert Marx found in the ship are in fact similar in shape to jars produced in kilns at Kouass, on the west coast of Morocco. The Rio jars look to be late versions of those jars, perhaps datable to the third century A.D. I have a large piece of one of the Rio jars, but no labs I have consulted have any clay similar in composition. So the edges of the earth for Rome, beyond India and Scotland and eastern Europe, remain shrouded in mystery.
According to Marx, the jars likely came from a Roman ship that had made it to Brazil, and that it could not have been merely a wandering derelict that had blown away across the ocean unmanned because it had managed to navigate all the way up the bay without crashing on the rocks or reefs along the way. His theory was that it had likely made it to Brazil under human control and then perhaps been blown off course to end up where it had. It was an incredible mystery, and one which Marx had hoped to solve before a series of setbacks kept him from it.
In 1983, the Brazilian government, which had been cooperative up to that point, suddenly and without any real explanation denied Marx’s request for permission to further explore the area. In fact, they even went as far as to ban him from entering the country at all, citing the allegations that he had stolen numerous historical objects from shipwrecks all over the country, and with Guanabara Bay this would extend into a full ban on any underwater exploration by anyone whatsoever. The frustrated Marx then accused the Brazilian government of a cover-up, saying that they were trying to wipe out anything that would clash with the established known history of the country, and this was why no effort had ever been made to investigate the fishermen’s claims in the past. He even went as far as to accuse the Brazilian Navy of burying the jars and possible shipwreck in silt in order to keep them hidden, which they denied.
So what is going on here? How did ancient Roman jars get all the way over in Brazil? Were these from a derelict ship blow out across the sea? Were they from some Roman voyage overseas that actually managed to cross the Atlantic? Is the Brazilian government trying to cover it up and subdue any further research on the matter? Or is it all a hoax perpetrated by Marx? Are the jars really even ancient at all? It is still undetermined, and considering that the area has been closed off to any more expeditions, it seems likely that if there is anything there, then it will remain down there in its watery final resting place for many millennia more, forever eluding answers.