A group of divers have discovered a Phoenician shipwreck dating back to 700 BC off the coast of Gozo island in Malta, according to a news report in the Times of Malta. It is a unique and immensely important finding as it is the oldest known shipwreck in the central Mediterranean, it is among the oldest and most complete Phoenician ships ever recovered, and it will serve to shed light on inter-regional trade and exchange in antiquity.
The announcement was made by Malta’s Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government, Owen Bonnici, who said the wreck was found in Maltese waters at a depth of 120 metres.
“This discovery is considered to be unique not only here but internationally as well because it is the oldest, or considered to be the oldest shipwreck in the central Mediterranean and it is in a fantastic state of preservation,” Project Co-Director Dr Timmy Gambin told the Times of Malta.
To date, researchers from France, the United States, and Malta have recovered 20 lava grinding stones, weighing some 35kg each, and 50 amphorae of seven different types, which suggests the ship had visited different harbours. Based on the cargo, scientists believe the ship was sailing from Sicily to Malta to sell its cargo when it sank.
The whole operation, which is being supervised by the Superintendence of National Heritage and explored by GROplan Project , is currently focused on piecing together over 8,000 photographs to create a very high resolution and detailed 3D model of the site. Following this, the results will be published and the international team will be working out how the site can be enjoyed by the general public. It has already been added to the National Inventory of Cultural Property and steps are being taken to protect the site for its future preservation.
One of the project’s researchers explained that the shipwreck is a typical Phoenician vessel which would have measured some 50 feet long.
The Phoenician civilization, which lasted from 1550 BC to 300 BC, was based in present-day Tyre in Lebanon. They travelled across most of the Mediterranean, not as conquerors but as traders.
The strategic location of the Malta in the Mediterranean made the islands a safe refuge for the Phoenicians during their long sea voyages. By the 7th Century BC the Phoenician presence was part of the identity of the Maltese islands. They are also widely believed to have set the origins of the Maltese language.
The Phoenician civilization was eventually conquered by the Persians and then by the Greeks.