Scientists from the University of Southampton and the British School at Rome have uncovered the remains of a massive building close to the distinctive hexagonal basin or harbor at the center of the port complex, a university release said Thursday.
"At first we thought this large rectangular building was used as a warehouse, but our latest excavation has uncovered evidence that there may have been another, earlier use, connected to the building and maintenance of ships," Portus Project Director Simon Keay from the university said.
"Few Roman Imperial shipyards have been discovered and, if our identification is correct, this would be the largest of its kind in Italy or the Mediterranean."
The building dates from the 2nd century A.D. and would have stood about 475 feet by 200 feet, an area larger than a soccer field.
Large brick-faced concrete piers or pillars, some 9 feet wide and still partly visible, supported at least eight parallel bays with wooden roofs, the researchers said.
"This was a vast structure which could easily have housed wood, canvas and other supplies and certainly would have been large enough to build or shelter ships in," Keay said. "The scale, position and unique nature of the building lead us to believe it played a key role in shipbuilding activities."