New Treasures Discovered at Antikythera, Which Might Be the Largest Ancient Shipwreck Ever Discovered

by Owen James Burke

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Above: Return to Antikythera project chief diver Philip Short recovers a two-meter-long bronze spear from the Antikythera Shipwreck. (Photo: Brett Seymour/Return to Antikythera 2014)

The ancient shipwreck which went down over 2,000 years ago off the remote Greek Island, Antikythera (where the Exosuit made her first blue water dive this week) is far from being the oldest ancient shipwreck ever discovered, but a recent archaeological exploration shows that it may be the largest remaining from antiquity.

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Above: the Antikythera mechanism, an early analog computer discovered on the wreck by sponge divers in 1900

(Photo via Wikipedia)

Sponge divers first discovered the wreck when they were blown off course in 1900 (much like the victims of the wreck itself, who likely met their end against the cliffs of Antikythera on their way to Rome from Asia Minor). They miraculously dove the 55 meters down to the site and returned with a spectacular haul of not only jewelry and fine glassware, but furniture, statues of marble and bronze and even an early analog computer, known simply as the Antikythera mechanism.

These findings would not have been possible without the introduction of the standard diving suit, but it did not come along without consequence. The sponge divers did find that they were able to dive deeper and stay down longer, but upon their return to the surface, were met with another shocking discovery: decompression sickness. Operations on the wreck were halted in 1901, when one diver died and two others were paralyzed. Ever since, archaeologists have wondered if there might have been any other secrets remaining down there, until it was revisited on a 6-week-long joint expedition by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, entitled “Return to Antikythera,” which just culminated this week.

“It’s the Titanic of the ancient world,” says WHOI expedition leader Brendan Foley, who reports that the 70-60 BC wreck spans some 300 meters of ocean floor, much larger than previously thought.

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Above: Greek technical diver Alexandros Sotiriou with an intact ceramic table jug and a bronze rigging ring on the Antikythera Shipwreck (Photo: Brett Seymour/Return to Antikythera 2014)

During the course of the past month, from beneath layers of sediment, the archaeologists recovered an intact table jug, an ornate bed leg, and a two-meter-long bronze spear, which is probably to big for human use, and may have been part of a statue of a warrior, or the goddess, Athena. They also discovered multiple anchors and a bronze rigging ring, which happened to still have some fragments of wood attached to it, suggesting the ship may remain largely intact.

With the winter approaching, operations have shut down until next year, but Foley and Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities are hopeful that further excavation will promise many more treasures.

Unfortunately, conditions were too rough for the deployment of the Exosuit until just this week, but archaeologists were able to begin mapping the wreck with the AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) Sirius, featured in the video below:

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Read more at WHOI — OB

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