A British-led group of underwater archaeologists have discovered a series of shipwrecks between the Lebanese and Cypriot coast lines – but beyond any country's territory – two kilometres beneath the Mediterranean Sea.
The find, which archaeologists have been seeking for nearly 70 years, consists of a fleet of Hellenistic, Roman, early Islamic and Ottoman wrecks that were sunk between the 3rd century BC and the 19th century.
The 12 wrecks were discovered by underwater robots, all within a few kilometres of each other. The largest find, which has been described as "an absolute colossus" because the ship could have held two normal-sized vessels on its deck, is believed to be the remains of a 17th-century Ottoman merchant craft.
The wreck's hold was found to contain some of the earliest Chinese porcelain ever discovered underwater in the Mediterranean. The loot includes pepper from India, water jars from Yemen and incense from Arabia, according to a report by the National.
Remains of the ships could reveal a previously unknown maritime silk and spice route running from China to Persia, the Red Sea and into the Eastern Mediterranean.
Though the discovered items have shed light not only on maritime trade routes, but life at sea. According to the National, Engima Recoveries believes that the oldest ship sank while its crew were praying, due to the discovery of religious artefacts on the vessel's well-preserved deck.
Advisor to the project, and director for the Centre for East-West Maritime Exploration Sean Kingsley, told the Observer: "This is truly ground-breaking, one of the most incredible discoveries in the Mediterranean."
"The goods and belongings of the 14 cultures and civilisations discovered, spanning on one side of the globe China, India, the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and to the west Northern Africa, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium, are remarkably cosmopolitan for pre-modern shipping of any era."
Co-director of Enigma, Steven Vallery, told the Guardian: "In the Levantine Basin, the Enigma wrecks lie beyond any country's territory. All the remains were carefully recorded using a suite of digital photography, HD video, photmosaics and multibeams. For science and underwater exploration, these finds are a great leap."
The final phase of the company's fieldwork took place at the end of 2015, but the post-excavation process has taken years, meaning the find remained unreported.
Some 588 items recovered from the wreck in 2015 have been impounded following a dispute over documentation with Cyprus, which is seeking to sell them at auction. Enigma Recoveries, however, is hoping to see the artefacts displayed in a major international museum.