A Phoenician shipwreck, believed to be the oldest in the central Mediterranean, is lying a mile off Gozo more than 2,700 years after it sank laden with amphorae and grinding stones.

Discovered in waters 120 metres deep, the ship probably measured some 50 feet and its unearthing is momentous as it could shed light on shipbuilding of that era.

Although the exact location of the shipwreck will not yet be disclosed as studies are still under way, project co-director Timothy Gambin said the unique site was in a fantastic state of preservation and lay a mile off the coast of Gozo.

“Experts have confirmed it dates back to 700BC and as far as we know it is the oldest shipwreck in the central Mediterranean,” Dr Gambin said.

Spread across a 15 by four metre area, there are around two metres of archaeological

remains under the seabed, which most probably include wood remains from the ship.

“This would be important as we don’t know much about shipbuilding of those times,” he said.

The seven types of visible amphorae, although similar in style, are all from different places: a typical example of a Phoenician ship that stopped at different ports.

Based in present-day Lebanon, Phoenician traders travelled across the Mediterranean.

Apart from 50 visible amphorae, the team has also discovered around 20 lava stones used to grind wheat, each weighing 35 kilos.

Following months of planning, the research team spent five days collecting data through advanced technology.

The technical team is putting together the data – 8,000 photographs – to create a detailed, high-resolution 3D model of the site.

Dr Gambin said within six months the team should have an idea on how to preserve the site and make it accessible to the public.

The survey of the shipwreck is being carried out within the Groplan Project funded by the French National Research Agency.

It is aimed at developing underwater photogrammetry: a 3D recording system for scientists. Malta’s case study includes the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France, the University of Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, an initiative that Culture Minister Owen Bonnici yesterday described as an example of good teamwork.

The site will be added to the National Inventory of Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands, which hosts around 2,400 monuments, including chapels and churches. Around 150 are marine sites, ranging from rock-cuts close to the coast to wrecks from antiquity and warplanes.

Superintendence CEO Anthony Pace said Malta was one of the Mediterranean’s richest sources of cultural objects and its waters were dotted with important archaeological remains.

It was therefore important for Malta to map as many of its cultural assets as possible and plan their conservation as these gave the island a cultural edge over other nations.

University Rector Juanito Camilleri, who was also present for the press conference, called for similar cooperation between entities.

This discovery has various interdisciplinary dimensions, including archaeological, marine and information technology, as one of the project’s aims is to develop software tools to monitor items on the seabed, Prof. Camilleri said.

These tools will prove helpful especially if the object of interest is out of reach: a virtual profile of the site could be recreated.

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