Mysterious artifacts discovered in shipwreck off the coast of Greece

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Archaeologists have pulled up over 50 ancient Greek artifacts from the Antikythera shipwreck, which has rested on the ocean floor nearly 200 feet below the surface for thousands of years.

Archaeologists have returned to one of the most mysterious shipwrecks in the Mediterranean to search for artifacts. According to a report from the Daily Mail, the shipwreck discovered off the coast of Antikythera, believed to have sailed in the days of Ancient Greece, holds way more treasure than researchers previously believed.

During the latest dive, underwater archaeologists spent nearly 40 hours scouring the shipwreck for new artifacts. They pulled over 50 new pieces from the shipwreck, including the remnants of a bone flute, a pawn from an ancient chessboard, fine glasses and the armrest to a chair made from bronze that researchers believe was part of a throne.

The shipwreck is dated to around 65 BC and was first found by Greek fishermen at the turn of the 20th century off of the southwestern tip of the Aegean island Antikythera. A year later, sponge divers discovered four enormous marble horses on the wreck, which were believed to be part of a complex of statues created around a warrior in a chariot that were pulled by the horses. A team of divers has worked tirelessly to excavate the 36 different marble statues depicting mythological heroes and gods. There was also a life-sized bronze statue of a famous athlete, as well as the skeletons of crew and passengers and their luxury belongings.

This wreck site is also the location where researchers first discovered the Antikythera Mechanism, a mechanical device with gears that created a pattern for decoding the movements of the planets and stars. The machine, called by some as the world’s first computer, was also able to predict eclipses.

The machine is highly complex, and includes more than 40 cogs and gears primarily made of bronze. Believed to have been used by the ancient Greeks to follow the movement of the stars in the sky and the planets in the solar system, the complexity of the astrological clock was not matched for another 1,500 years until European scientists made an astrological clock with a similar level of sophistication.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution launched the research program to excavate the wreck in conjunction with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports last year. Researchers generated a high-res 3D map of the site with the help of stereo cameras attached to an autonomous underwater vehicle. The map plotted an area of 113,020 square feet on the ocean floor, and led the divers to the ship and its ancient cargo in just four days.

The divers plunged to depths of 180 feet or more, and recovered items that included an amorpha that was still totally intact, a large lead salvage ring, two anchor stocks which would reveal the orientation of the ship on the bottom, and pieces of the sheathing for the hull of the ship. The archaeologists carefully excavated the treasures from the bottom of the sea, using a multi-dimensional map to make sure they were pulling up the right objects where they lay. This represents the first scientific excavation of a shipwreck and its artifacts in history.

Using advanced technical diving equipment like closed-circuit rebreathers and trimix breathing gases, the divers visited the wreck 61 times over the course of 10 days. A remotely operated submarine vehicle recorded all of the dives and helped the divers on the bottom communicate with researchers on the surface.

This year’s expedition included a total of 40 hours underwater, and the professional divers were joined by archaeologists who wanted to see the wreck up close and personal. The controlled excavation made sure to follow scientific procedures that would preserve the artifacts on the bottom and keep them carefully organized. The program is slated to last multiple years, and the team hopes to recover any artifact or ancient art pieces that have been left behind on the wreck. They wish to recreate the history of the ship and maybe even determine where it might have been heading when it sank.

The co-director of the project, Dr. Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist at WHOI claims that “This shipwreck is far from exhausted,” musing on the unique artifacts discovered with each subsequent dive at the wreck site. Dated back to the time of Julius Caesar, Foley says that the artifacts can show how the very wealthy people of the time likely lived.

The expedition was also carried out by researchers working with the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, led by Dr. Ageliki Simosi and Dr. Theotokis Theodoulou and Dr. Dimitris Kourkoumelis.

The diving team consisted of ten men, who used advanced technology to excavate the ship including closed-circuit rebreathers and trimix gases. Divers also donned an exosuit, which was created by Nuytco Research in Canada and can reach depths of 492 feet. The suit is made of aluminum, with a total of 18 joints up and down the arms and legs. It can supply oxygen for up to 50 hours, and is connected to the surface via a communications cable. It includes four 1.6 horsepower thrusters on the back that help the diver travel around the depths at decent speeds, and weighs roughly 250 kilograms.

Of the newly discovered artifacts, reserarchers discovered many large items like an amphora, a big lead salvage ring, and bits of the ship’s lead hull sheathing. They also found a lagynos, or a table jug, and a chiseled perforated stone piece that had 12 holes and was filled with a mysterious substance.

The new artifacts were removed from the seabed using a submersible pump attached to a dredge. The archaeologists working on the wreck were thrilled by their discoveries, finding many objects in the original context in which they sank.

The research team has created 3D maps of the layout of the wreck and all of the artifacts, and modeled their exact positions related to the ship and the shore. Scientists are now beginning the task of analyzing the ancient DNA left behind in ceramics jars. This can help identify the drinks, foods, medicines and other products used by these ancient seafarers. Analyses will also show how the ship was built, and where the materials like the wood and lead came from.

The ocean remains largely unexplored, and many archaeologists see the wreck as a hint of what is still to come.

Wanda B. Hewlett

Wanda B. Hewlett (Contributor) is a freelance writer from the UK. When she’s not busy writing she loves to spend her time traveling, exploring and running.

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