“Antikythera” - the Ancient Greek shipwreck still holds secrets

By Curious

The ancient shipwreck, which was discovered by a couple of sponge fishermen over a century ago off the coast of Antikythera (a small Greek island ) obviously doesn't reveal all its secrets at once.

The 2,085 years old shipwreck became famous with the holding of what is considered the world's oldest computer, called Antikythera.

Earlier this year, the Greek authorities have approved a five-year extension for an international team of explorers to continue probing the remains of the ship, which likely sank between 70 B.C. and 60 B.C.

“Antikythera” - the Ancient Greek shipwreck still holds secrets

Image: Wiki

The first phase of the project “Return to Antikythera” was completed in October 2014. During the shipwreck underwater observation, explorers found tableware, a lead anchor, a giant bronze spear that may have been part of a statue of a warrior or the goddess Athena, also several other artifacts.

The video below is a tribute from Swiss clock-maker Hublot and film-maker Philippe Nicolet to this device. For more than a century, researchers were trying to understand its functions:

After the newly approved extension, the team of researchers will have the chance to search for other artefacts, such as pottery and metal object, in some already known shipwreck hotspots. Except excavating treasure and artifacts from the ship, the team also intends to complete a detailed map of the wreck site.

The second phase of the project is expected to begin at the end of the summer. As part of the preparation works for the new research, the exploration team sent an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to digitally survey the shipwreck. The operation started on June 9 and ended on June 19.

On June 13, researchers had the luck to locate small pieces of copper-, bronze-, lead- and iron-bearing materials, while observing with the AUV and its metal detector.

Just few days later, the autonomous underwater vehicle was too much closer with the artifacts, taking pictures and collecting spatial data. The distance between the artifacts in relation to each other was measured as well.

The pieces of the Antikythera shipwreck will be excavated after the end of this summer and over the next five years.

The first phase of the project was started in 2012, as a joint effort between the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Greece and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Both organisations will continue to cooperate on the second phase, with an additional aid from WHOI's diving robotic Exosuit, nicknamed by the researchers as the "Iron Man for underwater science."

The first two-year expedition resulted in a 3D model of the seafloor with photos of the ancient ship wreckage. The map included also a data with all metal-reach locations, which were sent to the geoinformation system (GIS) database. It is an archive of all known geographic data for the region since 1900.

According to researchers findings, there are two sites, which are separated by 328 feet. This means either the ship broke into two sections after smashing into the rock coast, or there were two ships that simultaneously met their doom.

Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist from WHOI commented:

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

Since the beginning of the expedition, the shipwreck site has revealed various artifacts.

In a statement regarding the latest discoveries, Angeliki Simosi, the director of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, said:

"The shipwreck of Antikythera offers a glimpse into the diversity of its cargo."

Furthermore she explained that the findings confirmed the existence of a luxury-goods trade route along eastern Mediterranean countries.

"The ship that sank at Antikythera was not merely a cargo ship. It was essentially a floating museum", she said.

The video below shows a Virtual Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism:

“Antikythera” shipwreck history:

It was discovered in October 1900 by two sponge fishermen off the coast of the small Greek island Antikythera. The dive of the fishermen revealed pieces from the shipwreck lying 45 metres under the water. They brought out to the surface an arm from a bronze statue and many other small artifacts.

Together with the Greek Education Ministry and Royal Hellenic Navy, the sponge divers recovered various statues, including those of Ulysses, Diomedes and his horses, Ermes and Apollo. By the middle of 1901, divers had recovered statues arbitrarily named "The Philosopher".
Soon after, one of the divers died and some others were paralyzed from decompression sickness, which put to an end the artifacts recovery from the wreck.

Later in 1953, Captain Jacques Cousteau, famous French naval officer and underwater explorer, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering professor Harold "Doc" Edgerton, sailed to Antikythera and discovered another shipwreck marked by a lead anchor and amphoras (two-handled vessels for holding a liquid like wine or oil) sticking out of the sand.

Cousteau returned to Antikythera in the fall of 1976 for a television series about the history and attractions of Greece. Over the course of 27 days, Cousteau and his team recovered hundreds of objects, including ceramic vessels, parts of marble statues, bronze statuettes, bronze coins, gold jewelry, gemstones, glassware and human skeletal remains.

However, the most significant discovery was made on 17 May 1902 by the former Minister of Education, Spyridon Stais. When he was analyzing the artifacts in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, he noticed a severely corroded piece of bronze, which had inscriptions and a gear wheel embedded in it.

The object would come to be known later as the Antikythera mechanism or astrolabe. Originally thought to be one of the first forms of a mechanised clock or an astrolabe, it is at times referred to as the world’s oldest known analog computer.