Highly trained technical divers with a Florida-based group called Global Underwater Explorers--GUE for short--are helping Italian researchers to unlock an ancient shipwreck thought to date to the second Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Called the Panarea III, the ship was discovered off the Aeolian island of Panarea in 2010 by American researchers using sonar and a remotely operated submersible in waters about 40 miles (64 kilometres) north of Sicily.

Archaeologists said the ship is a wooden vessel about 50 feet (15 meters) long that could have hit rough seas and broken up on rocks before plunging to the sea bottom--possibly a wealthy merchant's cargo ship or one used to supply the Roman military. The ship was so far underwater that it has been safe for centuries from looters and entanglement in fishing gear. According to Sebastiano Tusa, an Italian archaeologist who is studying the site:

"This shipwreck is a very important occasion to understand more about daily life on the ancient ship as well as the real dynamics of ancient trade. 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."

The divers found many important pieces needed to tell the ship's story. Of note were the ship's anchor and a sacrificial altar with Greek inscriptions that provide clues to the ship's origin. The size and shape of the amphora help them understand what the ship was carrying.

Experts believe it could have been a supply ship for Roman legions or that it belonged to a wealthy merchant, possibly from the Italian region around Naples. Another possibility is that the ship was a supply vessel in the fleet of Claudio Marcello, a Roman consul who conquered Sicilian city of Syracuse in 212 B.C.

Much more research is needed before the team can be sure about many of its early hunches about the Panarea III, but with help from GUE the crew plans to return next year to the site for more dive work. Read more about the dive here.