Ancient Skeleton discovered at the Antikythera Shipwreck

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The “Return to Antikythera” international research team discovered a human skeleton during its ongoing excavation of the famous Antikythera Shipwreck (circa 65 B.C.). The shipwreck, which holds the remains of a Greek trading or cargo ship, is located off the Greek island of Antikythera in the Aegean Sea. The first skeleton recovered from the wreck site during the era of DNA analysis, this find could provide insight into the lives of people who lived 2100 years ago.

Led by archaeologists and technical experts from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the team excavated and recovered a human skull including a jaw and teeth, long bones of the arms and legs, ribs, and other remains. Other portions of the skeleton are still embedded in the seafloor, awaiting excavation during the next phase of operations.

“Archaeologists study the human past through the objects our ancestors created,” said Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist with WHOI. “With the Antikythera Shipwreck, we can now connect directly with this person who sailed and died aboard the Antikythera ship.”

The Antikythera Shipwreck is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered, possibly a massive grain carrier. It was discovered and salvaged in 1900 by Greek sponge divers. In addition to dozens of marble statues and thousands of antiquities, their efforts produced the Antikythera Mechanism —an astounding artifact known as the world’s first computer. In 1976, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the CALYPSO crew returned to the wreck and recovered nearly 300 more objects, including skeletal remains of the passengers and crew.

The skeleton discovered on August 31, 2016, is the first to be recovered from an ancient shipwreck since the advent of DNA studies. Ancient DNA expert Dr. Hannes Schroeder of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, hastened to Antikythera to view the remains. Once permission is obtained from the Greek authorities, samples will be sent to his laboratory for a full suite of analyses. If enough viable DNA is preserved in the bones, it may be possible to identify the ethnicity and geographic origin of the shipwreck victim.

“Against all odds, the bones survived over 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea and they appear to be in fairly good condition, which is incredible,” said Schroeder.

The Antikythera research team generates precise three-dimensional digital models of every artifact, allowing discoveries to be shared instantly and widely even if the objects remain on the sea floor. Several 3D models of the skeletal remains are available for researchers and the public to view on our devoted webpage.

Jonathan Knowles, Autodesk Explorer In Residence, said, “Our reality capture technology is not only helping share the amazing story of the Antikythera wreck with the world using digital models and 3D printed artifacts, it is enabling important preservation and furthering meaningful research.”

The project is supported by corporate partners Hublot (official diving watch and technical support), Autodesk, Cosmote (official telecommunication sponsor), Costa Navarino Resort (helicopter support) and private sponsors Swordspoint Foundation, Jane and James Orr, the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, the Domestic Property Committee of Kythera and Antikythera, the Municipality of Kythera, and private sponsors of WHOI.

The research team consists of archaeologists Dr. Theotokis Theodoulou and Dr. Dimitris Kourkoumelis (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports); Research Specialist Dr. Brendan Foley (WHOI); archaeologist Alexander Tourtas; professional technical divers Edward O’Brien (WHOI), Philip Short, Alexandros Sotiriou, Nikolas Giannoulakis, and Gemma Smith; videographer Evan Kovacs; documentary director Michalis Tsimperopoulos; supported by Michalis Kelaidis, Dimitris Romio, and Dimitris Manoliades. The robotic mapping survey was conducted by Prof. Stefan Williams, Dr. Oscar Pizarro, and Christian Lees from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, University of Sydney. U.S. National Parks Service underwater photographer Brett Seymour and archaeologist Dr. David Conlin volunteer their time and expertise.

The Return to Antikythera project is supervised by the Director of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities Dr. Aggeliki Simosi and is under the aegis of the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopios Pavlopoulos.

1976-2016: the journey to Antikythera continues…

The first phase of this year’s Return to Antikythera excavation produced fabulous results! More soon from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. Meanwhile, 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, and the Jacques Cousteau and Lazaros Kolonas investigation at Antikythera.

1976-2016 40 years from Cousteau Dive and establishment of Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities
Left to right, 1976: Jacques Cousteau and Lazaros Kolonas with Chief Diver Albert Falco and Ivan Giacoletto. 2016: diving ops manager Phillip Short, EUA archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou, chief diver Alexandros Sotiriou, and archaeologist Brendan Foley.

In this image, they are pictured with Chief Diver Albert Falco and Ivan Giacoletto. In tribute to those great men, some of our team recreated the same image with some of the newly recovered artifacts: (left to right) diving ops manager Phillip Short, EUA archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou, chief diver Alexandros Sotiriou, and archaeologist Brendan Foley.

Stunning Finds from Ancient Greek Shipwreck – New Antikythera Discoveries Prove Luxury Cargo Survives

Section of a bronze spear recovered that would have belonged to a larger-than-life size statue.
Section of a bronze spear recovered that would have belonged to a larger-than-life size statue.

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 autonomous underwater vehicle (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.

“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 archaeologists 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.”

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit www.whoi.edu.

Exosuit Dives Antikythera!

The team created history today, with Ed O’Brien from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution being the first person to dive (pilot) the Exosuit in the deep blue water off Antikythera.

Ed O'brien creates history, being the first person to dive (pilot) the Exosuit in Antikythera.
Ed O’brien creates history, being the first person to dive (pilot) the Exosuit in Antikythera.

We’ve been hampered by bad weather which created delays in the deployment of the Exosuit, but everything came together today, with the Exosuit being successfully deployed from the Hellenic naval vessel, HN THETIS.

Creating history, with members of the Hellenic Navy Seal (O.Y.K) team providing in-water support for the Exosuit.
Creating history, with members of the Hellenic Navy Seal (O.Y.K) team providing in-water support for the Exosuit.
Hellenic Navy diver/Exosuit pilot Fotis Lazarou is the first Greek person to dive the Exosuit in Antikythera.
Hellenic Navy diver/Exosuit pilot Fotis Lazarou was the first Greek person to dive the Exosuit in Antikythera.