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Archaeologists recovered two amphorae from the 3,300-year-old wreck site, which sheds new light on ancient maritime navigation

More than three millennia ago, a sinking merchant vessel settled about 5,900 feet beneath the surface of the Mediterranean Sea. Its hundreds of storage jars, called Canaanite amphorae, spilled into heaps on the seafloor.

Archaeologists recently recovered two of those jars, which are thought to date to between 1400 and 1300 B.C.E., during the late Bronze Age. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which announced the discovery this week, the wreck is the oldest ever found in the deep sea (the depth at which light starts to dwindle, around 656 feet).

“The discovery of this boat now changes our entire understanding of ancient mariner navigational skills,” Jacob Sharvit, director of maritime archaeology for the IAA, tells the New York Times’ Franz Lidz. “It is the very first to be found at such a great distance [from the shore] with no line of sight to any landmass. From this geographical point, only the horizon is visible all around.”

The site is located some 55 miles off Israel’s coast. Sharvit says that without access to navigational technologies like compasses and astrolabes, ancient sailors would have needed a comprehensive understanding of celestial navigation to travel so far from land.

Discoveries of this kind are astonishingly rare. Only two other Bronze Age shipwrecks that once carried cargo have been found in the Mediterranean. Both vessels, however, sank near Turkey’s coast, reports CBS News. They are also hundreds of years younger than the newly identified wreck.

Energean, a London-based energy company, discovered the 3,300-year-old cargo during a survey of the seafloor last summer. Pilots captured images of the amphorae using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) controlled via joysticks from the surface.