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Titanic explorer finds ancient shipwrecks

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Using the same techniques he used to locate the Titanic, explorer Bob Ballard said Wednesday he has found the oldest known deepwater shipwrecks: a pair of wine-laden ships dragged to the depths of the Mediterranean during a fierce storm more than 2,500 years ago.

The pair of Phoenician cargo chips were found using an underwater robot and deep-water tracking equipment, Ballard told reporters at a Tel Aviv hotel overlooking the Mediterranean."A lot of history books will be rewritten from what we are finding in the deep seas," the American said.

The contents of the ships indicate that they set sail from the Phoenician port of Tyre -- now a city in Lebanon -- about 750 B.C. Both vessels were transporting hundreds of amphorae, large ceramic containers filled with wine. Although the amphorae were found intact, the wine had seeped out and sand had filled them.

The ships were headed either for Carthage -- in modern-day Tunisia -- or Egypt. The vessels are positioned upright about 1,500 feet deep on the ocean floor, about 30 miles off the shores of Israel. The route was not previously known as one used by Phoenician sailors.

One ship is approximately 60 feet long, the largest pre-classical ship ever discovered, Ballard said. The smaller ship is located about two miles away and is 45 feet long.

The ships are almost perfectly preserved -- a result of the cold deep-sea waters and the relative absence of sediment at such depths.

Stone anchors were found, as well as crockery, a wine decanter, and incense stands for offering prayers to the weather gods.

The ships were believed to have been part of a fleet of cargo carriers. They probably went down in a violent storm and each likely carried a crew of six, said Lawrence Stager, an archeologist from Harvard University.

Phoenicians were a seafaring people who lived along the Levantine coast for about 2,000 years beginning in 2300 B.C.

The search was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the United States Office of Naval Research and an Israeli archaeological institute.