A trove of ancient jars have been found on the seabed of Sicily by archaeologists studying a Roman-era shipwreck, suggesting the presence in the area of an important trading hub for amphoras.

Found in 2011 at a depth of about 250 feet off Aci Trezza in eastern Sicily, the wreck and its cargo are currently investigated by a team of archaeologists led by Philippe Tisseyre under the direction of superintendent Sebastiano Tusa. More than 1,500 photos are helping produce a 3-D relief of the wreck site.

"The ongoing study will allow us to reconstruct the cargo, the way it was loaded and the features of the ship, which was 15 meters (49 feet) long and 4 meters (13 feet) wide," Sicily's Superintendency for the Sea said in a statement.

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The cargo consists of a pile of at least five different types of terracotta jars, or amphoras, dating to around the 2nd century BC. These jars were used as shipping containers and carried trade products such as honey, olive oil, wine and fish sauce.

Greco-Italic amphoras from Campania in southern Italy account for the majority of the vessels. Used to carry wine along ports in the Mediterranean, these type of jars featured two side handles on a pear-shaped body with a pointed spike at its base.

The 3-D mapping also revealed a number of Dressel 1C amphoras -- tall cylindrical jars with angular shoulders, long straight handles, high collar rim and narrow mouth -- and Lamboglia 2 vessels. Featuring a bag-shaped body, a short pointed spike, a high cylindrical neck with thick oval handles, the Lamboglia 2 amphoras were mainly used to for wine.

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"The finding suggests the presence nearby of a trading hub for amphoras," the Superintendency for the Sea said.

The researchers also spotted three areas of the wreck site in which amphoras are not present.

"At first we thought these blank spots were caused by robbers, but now we believe they were occupied by perishable parts of the cargo, such as wicker boxes," the Superintendency for the Sea said.

A remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) will scour the seafloor around the wreck in the next weeks to uncover other objects from the cargo.

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