Malta's Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government, Owen Bonnici, announced on Monday that a Phoenician shipwreck has been found in Maltese waters.
The 50-feet-long sunken ship is located one mile off the coast of Gozo, Malta's second largest island, at a depth of 120 meters. The ship dates back to 700 B.C.
It could be the oldest shipwreck in the Mediterranean, according to Bonnici.
The shipwreck is well preserved and new software development tools are being created to compile data which will be included in the archipelago's National Inventory of Cultural Property.
The site is being explored by GROplan Project, funded by the French National Research Agency. The project is aimed at developing underwater photogrammetry in an efficient and economical way.
Department of Classics and Archaeology at University of Malta and institutions in France and the United States are involved in the project.
One of the project's researchers explained that the shipwreck is a typical Phoenician vessel which made stops in Sardegna and Malta to sell its cargo. The divers found around 50 amphora of seven different types, and 20 lava grinding zones weighing some 35 kilos each.
Samples have been raised to the surface for study. The whole operation is being supervised by the Superintendence of National Heritage.
The discovery was kept secret until the necessary studies were carried out, but the exact location of the site is still unknown to the public.
Most Maltese history books record the Phoenicians as the first known inhabitants of the islands. Malta and Gozo with their safe harbors were a natural conquest for Phoenicians, because they could not expand eastwards as they were bordered in by their enemies so the only logical route was westwards into the Mediterranean.
By the 7th Century B.C. the Phoenician presence was part of the identity of the Maltese islands. This date also conveniently marks the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age.
The Phoenicians were not normally a conquering people but traders, mostly interested in what their own lands could not supply - namely metals, preferably precious ones.
The Phoenicians saw in the Maltese islands a safe refuge during their long sea voyages. The Maltese on their part must have been happy to offer basic supplies to the Phoenicians in exchange for woven items and the excitement of meeting outsiders in their otherwise isolated existence.
The strategic location of the islands also offered a port of call very close to Sicily dominated by the arch enemies of the Phoenicians - the Greeks.
The Phoenicians are also believed to have set the origins of the Maltese language.