Marine archaeologists will begin work in June to uncover the sand-buried hull of a 2,300-year-old cargo ship thought to have been ferrying wine from the Aegean island of Chios before it sank off Cyprus' southern coast, researchers said Thursday.
The vessel, dating from the late Classical period (mid-fourth century B.C.) is one of only a few such ships to have been found so well-preserved, said University of Cyprus visiting marine archaeologist Stella Demesticha.
"The shipwreck looks very promising about shedding light on the nautical and economic history of the period in the east Mediterranean," Demesticha told the Associated Press on Thursday.
The wreck rests on the seabed at a depth of 144 feet some 1 1/2 miles off the island's southern coast.
Demesticha said the wreck was also unique because it lies at a depth that divers can easily reach, unlike similar discoveries found in deeper waters.
Unreleased underwater photographs that researchers took of the vessel on initial surveying dives in November show a jumble of dozens of amphorae — clay urns used in antiquity to carry liquids and solid foodstuffs — lying on the seabed in the shape of the ship.
Demesticha said researchers believe the ship's hull to be buried under tons of sand. The amphorae closely resemble others found to contain Chios wine, but may have been used to transport other goods in ancient sea trade.
The discovery could also provide more clues into Cyprus' role in maritime trade during the last phases of the Cypriot city-kingdoms, researchers said.
Cypriot research divers will start the next surveying phase in early June said Demesticha, followed by another in October. The project is being undertaken by the University of Cyprus' Archaeology Research Unit and is being funded by the Thetis Foundation, a private institution that protects underwater cultural heritage.
The ship appears to be a contemporary of the famed Kyrenia ship, a 50-foot merchant vessel that another Greek Cypriot diver accidentally discovered off the island's northern coast more than four decades ago.