-- Divers off the coast of Italy were transported back in time when they descended to the skeleton of a ship with well-preserved artifacts that sailed over 2,000 years ago, at the height of the Roman Empire.
The shipwreck is thought to be of a Mediterranean trade ship that sailed between the ancient cities of Rome and Carthage sometime between 218 and 210 B.C.
The wreck is submerged 410 feet below sea level, too deep to be reached by robotic technology. So an expert team of technical divers from a Florida-based group called Global Underwater Explorers are helping Italian researchers. It was discovered in 2010 by sonar and a submersible operated remotely.
"It felt very much like a ghost ship awaiting the boarding of ancient mariners," Jarrod Jablonski, one of the divers with the exploration group based in the Florida community of High Springs, told The Associated Press.
Archaeologists working with the team have so far discovered terra cotta jars scattered across the ocean floors. The jars, called amphora, were used to carry wine, olive oil and other cargo.
Researchers told the AP they believe the ship was called the Panarea III, a wooden vessel about 50 feet long that was likely used as a cargo ship for a wealthy merchant or the Roman military.
It is unusual for shipwrecks this old to have survived thousands of years intact. The Panarea III was so far below sea level it was undetected by looters and fishermen.
"This shipwreck is a very important occasion to understand more about the daily life on the ancient ship, as well as the real dynamics of ancient trade," Sebastiano Tusa, an Italian archaeologist who is studying the site, told the AP.
"Of course, there are other similar shipwrecks that can offer similar study cases. But this has the peculiarity to be in a very good preservation condition."