Stunning finds from ancient Greek shipwreck

October 9, 2014
Greek technical diver Alexandros Sotiriou discovers an intact "lagynos" ceramic table jug and a bronze rigging ring on the Antikythera Shipwreck. Credit: Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014

A Greek and international team of divers and archaeologists has retrieved stunning new finds from an ancient Greek ship that sank more than 2,000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera. The rescued antiquities include tableware, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue.

The Antikythera wreck was first discovered in 1900 by sponge divers who were blown off course by a storm. They subsequently recovered a spectacular haul of ancient treasure including bronze and marble statues, jewellery, furniture, luxury glassware, and the surprisingly complex Antikythera Mechanism. But they were forced to end their mission at the 55-meter-deep site after one diver died of the bends and two were paralyzed. Ever since, archaeologists have wondered if more treasure remains buried beneath the sea bed.

Now a team of international archaeologists including Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities have returned to the treacherous site using state-of-the-art technology. During their first excavation season, from September 15 to October 7, 2014, the researchers have created a high-resolution, 3D map of the site using stereo cameras mounted on an (AUV). Divers then recovered a series of finds which prove that much of the ship's cargo is indeed still preserved beneath the sediment.

Components of the ship, including multiple lead anchors over a metre long and a bronze rigging ring with fragments of wood still attached, prove that much of the ship survives. The finds are also scattered over a much larger area than the sponge divers realized, covering 300 meters of the seafloor. This together with the huge size of the anchors and recovered hull planks proves that the Antikythera ship was much larger than previously thought, perhaps up to 50 meters long.

Return to Antikythera project chief diver Philip Short inspects the bronze spear recovered from the Antikythera Shipwreck. Credit: Brett Seymour, Copyright: Return to Antikythera 2014

"The evidence shows this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered," says Foley. "It's the Titanic of the ancient world."

The archaeologists also recovered a beautiful intact table jug, part of an ornate bed leg, and most impressive of all, a 2-meter-long bronze spear buried just beneath the surface of the sand. Too large and heavy to have been used as a weapon, it must have belonged to a giant statue, perhaps a warrior or the goddess Athena, says Foley. In 1901, four giant marble horses were discovered on the wreck by the sponge divers, so these could have formed part of a complex of statues involving a warrior in a chariot that was pulled by the four horses.

The shipwreck dates from 70 to 60 BC and is thought to have been carrying a luxury cargo of Greek treasures from the coast of Asia Minor west to Rome. Antikythera stands in the middle of this major shipping route and the ship probably sank when a violent storm smashed it against the island's sheer cliffs.

The wreck is too deep to dive safely using regular scuba equipment, so the divers had to use rebreather technology, in which carbon dioxide is scrubbed from the exhaled air while oxygen is introduced and recirculated. This allowed them to dive on the site for up to three hours at a time.

The plan to return next year to excavate the site further and recover more of the ship's precious cargo. The finds, particularly the bronze spear, are "very promising," says Theodolou. "We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets."

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8 comments

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Scottingham
5 / 5 (6) Oct 09, 2014
Rebreathers rule.
saposjoint
4.6 / 5 (9) Oct 09, 2014
Archaeology rules. I can't wait to read more about this.
carfull19
5 / 5 (1) Oct 10, 2014
Couldn't some of this be from the library of Alexandria before it was destroyed?
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (4) Oct 10, 2014
Probably not. The most common theory seems to be that the cargo was from the Roman sack of Athens. As far as I know not much was taken from the Alexandria library before it was destroyed. It could have been from other parts of Egypt, but the art doesn't match the Egyptian styles, while it looks very similar to Greek works.
hemitite
5 / 5 (1) Oct 10, 2014
To quote Flounder, "This is going to be great!"
In the Black Sea, there are scads of very old shipwrecks that are almost perfectly preserved because they sank into a layer of anoxic water. There are untold treasures and wonders to be found down there.
fanonats06
1 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2014
..."a 2-meter-long bronze spear buried just beneath the surface of the sand. Too large and heavy to have been used as a weapon..."

Of course it could. That's the same size as Goliath's spear when he fought David. Don't believe in the Bible? Not the point, There is a LOT of evidence there were entire tribes of giants in the early days of mankind.

Vietvet
5 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2014
..."a 2-meter-long bronze spear buried just beneath the surface of the sand. Too large and heavy to have been used as a weapon..."

Of course it could. That's the same size as Goliath's spear when he fought David. Don't believe in the Bible? Not the point, There is a LOT of evidence there were entire tribes of giants in the early days of mankind.

Idiot.


OZGuy
5 / 5 (2) Oct 17, 2014
fanonats06 - joined October 15, 2014, 10:55 pm to post a BS comment designed purely to elicit a response.

Troll

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