London: Lost ancient treasures of gold, oil, wine and metalwork may be hidden in the world's oldest complete shipwreck, which was discovered in the Black Sea by marine archaeologists.
An international team of researchers, including experts from the University of Southampton in England, found the intact skeleton of the Greek trading vessel, which was carbon dated to 400BC and which still has an upright mast and rowing benches.
Although earlier wrecks have been found, the ship has remained completely intact after being buried in the silty, oxygen-free sediment of the seabed for more than 2400 years.
Usually with shipwrecks the cargo is lost when the ship breaks up, floating away on currents or ending up scattered around the stricken vessel. But archaeologists believe the goods may still be trapped in the hold and are hoping to raise funding to return to the site to hunt for sunken treasure.
The ship was a trading vessel, so could contain grain, gold, wine, oil or priceless metalwork.
"Normally we find amphorae [wine vases] and can guess where it's come from, but with this it's still in the hold," said Dr Helen Farr, a marine archaeologist from the University of Southampton.
"It's absolutely incredible. It's to do with the preservation. We have bits of shipwreck that are earlier but this is intact. It's lying on its side, it's got its mast, its rudders; it's just not something you see every day.
"The Black Sea is anoxic – it doesn't have oxygen in the water beyond 150 metres down. You don't have anything living so you don't have bacteria, which doesn't degrade the wood, so you get these very early shipwrecks preserved.
"As archaeologists we're interested in what it can tell us about technology, trade and movements in the area."
The vessel was one of many trading ships that made regular trips to supply Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast. It was discovered more than 80 kilometres off the Bulgarian city of Burgas. The ship is one of more than 60 discovered by researchers during an exhaustive survey of 2000 square kilometres of seabed using remote-controlled deep water camera systems.
Others found include Roman trading ships and a 17th-century Cossack raiding fleet.
But in late 2017, the most recent phase of the work, the cameras settled upon the remains of the ancient Greek ship jutting from the sand.
Its original shape had not been compromised despite millennia at the bottom of the sea, with a mast and rudder still clearly visible. Researchers said such a design has only previously been seen on Greek pottery from the time, such as the Siren Vase in the British Museum.
The artefact shows Odysseus, hero of Homer's Odyssey, bound to the mast of a vessel as sirens circle overhead, trying to lure sailors on to the rocks with their enchanting songs.
The ship's impeccable preservation is down to the anaerobic environment, which allows organic material to be sustained for thousands of years, the group said.
John Adams and the University of Southampton led the expedition, which also had students from disadvantaged schools on board.
A ship, surviving intact, from the classical world, lying in more than three quarters of a mile of water, is "something I would never have believed possible", he said.
"This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world."
Daily Telegraph, London