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Shipwreck off Maltese coast yields 2,700-year-old ancient Phoenician artifacts

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Many stories in which shipwrecks are discovered are bound to involve some sort of long-lost treasure, and this one has some exciting historical implications. A shipwreck found by divers off the coast of Malta holds a bounty of artifacts that date back nearly 3,000 years and are believed to be some of the oldest ever found from the ancient Mediterranean civilization of Phoenicia.

Phoenicia was situated on the western coast of the Fertile Crescent, with the major cities of Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre situated on what is now the western coast of Lebanon. Ancient Phoenicians are known for spreading their prosperous trading routes all along the Mediterranean coast between 1550 BC.-300 B.C., as well as their production of the coveted purple dye that colored royal clothing in Mesopotamia and ultimately made the color a status symbol.

The site of the wreckage, which was discovered months ago off the coast of the Maltese island of Gozo, reportedly lies nearly 400 feet below the sea and covers an area of roughly 46 feet by 16 feet. A technical team is hard at work sifting through more than 8,000 photos taken of the area with the hope of constructing a high-resolution 3D model of the site. Researchers believe the vessel was on the way to Malta from Sicily when it sank.

“This discovery is considered to be unique … because it is the oldest shipwreck in the central Mediterranean and is in a fantastic state of preservation,” Timothy Gambin of the University of Malta said.

The artifact haul includes seven varieties of dual-handled containers known as amphorae, which were often used to transport and store various products such as wine. More than 50 amphorae total were discovered at the site, as well as lava grinding stones weighing upwards of 70 pounds apiece. The artifacts are all believed to date back to about 700 B.C.

Though the site’s exact location has not yet been revealed, ABC News notes on Monday that researchers will disclose it after their work has been completed. In addition to scientists from the University of Malta, researchers involved with the wreckage also come from the French National Research Agency and Texas A&M University.