Archaeologists have uncovered a 2,700-year-old Phoenician vessel at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Pictured, a Phoenician ship carved on the face of a 2nd-century A.D. sarcophagus. Creative Commons

An ancient vessel that once transported Phoenicians around the Mediterranean Sea was found near the island of Malta with its cargo still remarkably intact, a team of archeologists from the U.S., France and Malta report. The shipwreck, believed to be around 2,700 years old, has yielded some of the oldest artifacts of that civilization ever discovered.

“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,” Timmy Gambin, who led a team to explore the site, told the Times of Malta. “The technical team is working on putting together the data,” more than 8,000 photographs of the area, “so that’s a lot of data crunching. They are creating a very high-resolution 3D model of the site.”

Divers spotted the shipwreck a few months ago roughly 120 meters (390 feet) below the surface. The exact location of the site has not been revealed, but researchers say the ancient vessel was found about a mile off the Maltese island of Gozo. Its remains were spread out over an area measuring 14 meters by 5 meters. Researchers said they think the ship was en route from Sicily to Malta when it sank.

More than 50 amphorae -- containers with two handles and narrow necks used to hold wine -- and 20 lava grinding stones weighing 77 pounds each were found amid the wreckage, the Australian reported. The amphorae were of seven varieties, indicating the vessel had traveled to numerous harbors before sinking. Researchers have brought several pieces of the wreck to the surface and plan to investigate the site further.

The ancient Phoenicians lived near present-day Lebanon and traded all along the Mediterranean coast. They thrived from about 1550 to 300 B.C. and were master seafarers. Only recently have archeologists begun to understand Phoenician maritime technology.

“Modern scholarship knows little of the vanished people and almost nothing of the empire's basis, its merchant ships,” the New York Times reported in 1998. “None that are clearly Phoenician have come to light, and only a few images of the vessels have come down through the ages.”