NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Archaeologists have started research into what they believe may be the oldest known ancient shipwreck off Cyprus which sank with hundreds of jars of wine on board 2,350 years ago.
In what could be described as a super-tanker of ancient times, Cypriot marine archaeologists say it appears to be one of the best preserved wrecks in the region, carrying hundreds of jars of wine dating from the mid-fourth century BC.
"We have very few wrecks so well preserved in the eastern Mediterranean dating from the classical period," said Dr Stella Demesticha, visiting lecturer of underwater archaeology at the University of Cyprus.
Researchers have found 500 large ceramic wine jars, or amphorae, and believe another 300 to 400 could be buried in sand along with the hull of the boat. Their design suggested they were from the Greek island of Chios, Demesticha said.
"We know Chios was famous for its high quality red wine, and we believe that the amphorae contained wine."
Wine was a principal product of the north Aegean island in antiquity, exported in distinctive narrow-bottomed jars with long stems.
"We also have serious reason to believe that the hull of the ship is well preserved in the sand," she told Reuters.
The wreck lies some 45 meters deep, 2 km from Cyprus's southern coast.
"It is the largest shipwreck we have found in Cyprus to date," said Pavlos Flourentzos, director of the department of antiquities.
Demesticha said the amphorae must have lost their wine almost immediately with the stoppers on their spouts dissolving in water.
"Now they contain just sea water and sand," she said.
Editing by Paul Casciato