Antikythera’s BC age sunken ship discoveries

"Divers recover an amphora from the site of the Roman Antikythera shipwreck in Greece." Photograph: Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities/WHOI
“Divers recover an amphora from the site of the Roman Antikythera shipwreck in Greece.” Photograph: Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities/WHOI

Jo Marchant writes for the Guardian about the latest finds from this ancient Roman ship wreck in Greece.  Apparently, the same site was visited by Jacques Cousteau in the 1970’s. The recovery of a clock-like object called the “Antikythera mechanism” has also brought fame to this 1st Century BC wreck site in the early 1900’s.

Marchant writes, reporting the new divers discoveries:

In October last year, a team of divers led by Brendan Foley of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Aggeliki Simossi of Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, went back for a proper look. The divers used James Bond-style propulsion vehicles equipped with high-resolution video cameras to circumnavigate the island at about 40 metres depth. Now the photos released by the teamshow some of what they found.

For centuries Antikythera was in a busy shipping lane, but surprisingly its treacherous underwater cliffs and reefs are not littered with sunken ships (perhaps those ancient navigators were more skilled than we thought). And there are no obvious signs of a wreck at the site supposedly excavated by Cousteau, suggesting that he recovered all of the visible items there – or that he planted some of his finds for the cameras.

But 200 metres away, the divers found artefacts spread across the rocky sea floor, on a steep slope between 35 and 60 metres deep.

The largest item recovered was a huge lead anchor stock. It was lying on a semicircular object that might be a scupper pipe, used to drain water from the ship’s deck. If so, the ship may have gone down as she was sailing with the anchor stowed. The team also raised an intact storage jar (amphora), which matches those previously recovered from the wreck. DNA tests may reveal its original contents.

Most intriguing are dozens of irregular spherical objects sprinkled across the wreck site. They look like rocks but contain flecks of green, suggesting small bronze fragments, corroded and encrusted in sediment after thousands of years in the sea. This is just what the Antikythera mechanism looked like when it was discovered. Then again, they could be collections of ship’s nails.

Because the artefacts the team found are a short distance from the site investigated by Cousteau, it’s possible that they belong to a second ship from around the same date as the original wreck, perhaps part of the same fleet. But Foley thinks it more likely that all of the remains come from one vessel that broke up as it sank.

To confirm this, he hopes to revisit the site later this year. He wants to use metal detectors to map the distribution of metal and ceramic objects buried beneath the surface, as well as dig a few test trenches. “I’m intensely curious about what’s in the sediments,” he says.

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