A diver swims near an iron skylight from the bow area of the Mayan slave ship "La Unión", off Sisal, in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico.
Archaeologists in Mexico have confirmed that a shipwreck discovered off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula once carried captured Mayans who were sold as slaves.
It is the first Mayan slave ship discovered, according to Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), which made the announcement on Tuesday.
The steamboat known as "La Unión" was discovered by archaeologists in the Gulf of Mexico two nautical miles from Sisal in 2017. But it took three years of research to confirm that it was a Mayan slave ship.
The Union illegally captured and transported some 25 to 30 Maya monthly to Cuba, where they were forced to work in the sugar cane fields between 1855 and 1861. This was during the rebellion known as the War of the Castes, according to INAH.
Divers swim near the "La Unión" shipwreck, which transported the Mayans for the slave trade in the 1850s, off the coast of Sisal, Yucatán, Mexico.
"Each slave was sold to intermediaries for 25 pesos, and in Havana they were resold for up to 160 pesos, for men, and 120 pesos for women," said INAH archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke in a press release.
The ship sank on September 19, 1861 while on its way to Cuba, showing that slavery continued despite being abolished in Mexico in 1829 and a decree prohibiting the forced extraction of the Mayans that same year.
MIRA: They find 13 coffins in an Egyptian well that could contain mummies
"For researchers ... the discovery is very relevant," INAH said in the statement.
"Beyond the difficulty of identifying a wreck by name, it also speaks of a sinister past for Mexico that must be recognized and studied in terms of its context and time."
Archaeologists confirmed the identity of the ship from its boilers, which exploded and caused the ship to catch fire, as well as the wooden-hulled side spool that had been preserved.
They also found artifacts, including bottle glass shards, pottery and eight brass cutlery used by first-class passengers on board.
MORE: Six Archaeological Sites Discovered Underground of Mexico City
The accident killed half of the 80 crew and 60 passengers on board.
It is unclear how many of the dead included Mayan slaves, as they were listed as cargo and merchandise, not passengers.
The Mayans were a Mesoamerican civilization that flourished in Mexico and Central America from 2000 BC.
Until the time of the Spanish conquerors.
Mayan Civilization Yucatan Peninsula