Marine scientists announced on Friday that they discovered a shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina while conducting a research expedition aboard Atlantis, the research ship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The scientists from Duke University, North Carolina University and University of Oregon were using sonar to look for a mooring that was deployed in the area in 2012 but found the shipwreck instead. According to them, the sunken ship may have been from the 18th or early 19th century, Duke Today reports.

"This is an exciting find, and a vivid reminder that even with major advances in our ability to access and explore the ocean, the deep sea holds its secrets close," expedition leader and Duke University Marine Laboratory director Cindy Van Dover said, according to Duke Today.

Van Dover, who had led four expeditions on the same site since 2012, thought it was ironic that they were not aware the shipwreck was just sitting there. They had been doing a research on the ecology of deep-sea methane seeps using WHOI's Sentry, an autonomous underwater vehicle, and Alvin, a manned submersible.

Some artifacts, including wooden ship timbers, an unglazed pottery jug, an iron chain and a compass, were discovered in the area, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

Marine Heritage Program director James Delgado said the wreck was found 150 miles off the coast, in the Gulf Stream, which used to be a maritime trade route. He said examination of the wreck could give information about the trading conditions of the young United States, Fox News reports.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will identify the ship and determine where it came from and how old it is.

"Lying more than a mile down in near-freezing temperatures, the site is undisturbed and well preserved. Careful archaeological study in the future could definitely tell us more," Bruce Terrell, chief archaeologist of NOAA's Marine Heritage Program, said, The Washington Post reports.