Mysterious disk found in Ancient Greek Antikythera shipwreck (video)

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Mysterious disk found in Ancient Greek Antikythera shipwreck (video)Perhaps one of the most significant finds came when archaeologists found ancient human remains at the site

Bronze limbs, a sarcophagus lid, marble statue pieces, and a mysterious bronze disk were among the remains located during excavations of one of the world’s most ancient—and famous—shipwrecks, according to the following report by the Greek Observer.

While the statues would likely have been evaluated as high art in their day, perhaps the most intriguing artifact found is a small, bronze disk. Punctuated with holes and decorated with the image of a bull, it’s unclear what the disk was used for, said Simossi.

“It is maybe decoration for furniture or maybe a seal, or it could be an instrument,” Simossi hinted. “It is very early to say.”

It’s also reminiscent of the Antikythera mechanism, a small, bronze disk that measures celestial movements with astonishing accuracy. That piece was found among the ship’s remains in 2006. The mechanism is so accurate, in fact, that it’s often referred to as an “ancient computer.”

Greece’s Division of Underwater Antiquities—a government agency that’s part of the country’s ministry of archaeology—announced their discoveries Wednesday after several weeks of excavations, which lasted from September 4 to 20. Located just off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera 180 feet below the sea, the so-called Antikythera shipwreck can yield insights into Roman culture during its heyday.

“[Marine archaeologists] have found a very big treasure of statues of marble and bronze and other items,” noted expedition co-leader Aggeliki Simossi.

According to her, the first century B.C. merchant ship would have been bound for Rome, where wealthy members of Roman society decorated their villas with Grecian art. Large for its time, the ship measured roughly 130 feet long, meaning a large stash of artifacts was on board when it set sail for Italy.

Footage shot during the excavation shows the archaeologists pulling a realistic sculpture fragment of an arm from the elbow to the fingers. The open tilt of some of the statues’ hands, with fingers seeming to gesture up and outward, suggest they were modeled after philosophers.

More excavations during 2018

The team of archaeologists, co-led by Simossi and archaeologist Brendan Foley from Lund University in Sweden, will continue studying the remains of this year’s haul, before returning to the shipwreck site by May of 2018 for more excavations.

While Simossi stressed this year’s field work yielded a bigger haul than previous years, the Antikythera shipwreck has been the archaeological gift that keeps on giving. It was first discovered in 1900 by sponge divers, who spotted limbs from bronze statues.

The “orphan” limbs, as they’re called by archaeologists, suggested early on that more treasure was waiting to be discovered. Famous French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau excavated the ruins in 1976, finding additional statues and some smaller artifacts.

While the site has been well known for over 100 years, excavations have been intermittent since Cousteau’s trip in the 1970s. Foley’s focus on the region in 2014 renewed archaeological interest. Perhaps one of the most significant finds came during September of last year, when archaeologists found human remains at the site. It was the first opportunity to examine 2,000-year-old DNA from the wreck, which may provide more data about its history. The DNA is still being analyzed but initial work suggests it was likely a young male.

Discussing the find in 2016 with Nature, Foley argued that the ship sank suddenly and from natural conditions—most likely a storm.

According to Simossi, the wreck contains the most cargo of any known ship remains in the Mediterranean Sea. The slow, painstaking work of combing through the wreckage means more discoveries are possible there.

More background about the shipwreck

Around Easter 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kondos and his crew of sponge divers from Symi sailed through the Aegean en route to fishing grounds off North Africa. They stopped at the Greek island of Antikythera to wait for favorable winds. During the layover, they began diving off the island's coast wearing the standard diving dresses — canvas suits and copper helmets – of the time.

Diver Elias Stadiatis descended to 45 meters depth, then quickly signaled to be pulled to the surface. He described a seafloor horror show: a heap of rotting corpses and horses strewn among the rocks. Thinking the diver was drunk from the nitrogen in his breathing mix at that depth, Kondos himself donned the diving gear, and soon returned to the surface with the arm of a bronze statue. Shortly thereafter, the men departed as planned to fish for sponges, but at the end of the season they returned to Antikythera and retrieved several artifacts from the wreck. Kondos reported the finds to authorities in Athens, and quickly Hellenic Navy vessels were sent to support the salvage effort from November 1900 through 1901.

Artifact recovery

Together with the Greek Education Ministry and the Royal Hellenic Navy, the sponge divers salvaged numerous artifacts from the waters. By the middle of 1901, divers had recovered bronze statues named "The Philosopher", the Youth of Antikythera (Ephebe) of c. 340 BC, and thirty-six marble sculptures including "Hercules", Ulysses, Diomedes, Hermes, Apollo, three marble statues of horses (a fourth was dropped during recovery, and is lost on the sea floor), a bronze lyre, and several pieces of glasswork. Ship's equipment included lead scupper pipes and hull sheeting, and a set of four massive lead sounding weights (up to 14 kg). These are the only sounding weights ever discovered on an ancient shipwreck in the Aegean, though comparable examples have been recovered along the Levantine coast. Many other small and common artifacts were also found, and the entire assemblage was taken to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The death of diver Giorgos Kritikos and the paralysis of two others due to decompression sickness put an end to work at the site during the summer of 1901.

On 17 May 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais made the most celebrated find while studying the artefacts at the National Archaeological Museum. He noticed that a severely corroded piece of bronze had a gear wheel embedded in it and legible inscriptions in Greek. The object would come to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism. 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.

The wreck remained untouched until 1953 when French naval officer and explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau visited briefly to relocate the site. Cousteau returned with a full team in the summer and autumn of 1976 at the invitation of the Greek Government. Under the direction of archaeologist Dr. Lazaros Kolonas, the team recovered nearly 300 artifacts, including four hull planks, ceramic jars, bronze and silver coins, pieces of bronze and marble sculptures, bronze statuettes, several pieces of gold jewelry, and even human remains of the crew and passengers.

Although the retrieval of artifacts from the shipwreck was highly successful and accomplished within two years, dating the site proved difficult and took much longer. Based on related works with known provenances, the bronze statues could be dated back to the 4th century BC, while the marble statues were suggested to be Hellenistic-era copies of earlier works.

The philosopher's head

Some scholars have speculated that the ship was carrying part of the loot of the Roman General Sulla from Athens in 86 BC, and might have been on its way to Italy. A reference by the Greek writer, Lucian, to one of Sulla's ships sinking in the Antikythera region gave rise to this theory. Supporting an early 1st-century BC date were domestic utensils and objects from the ship, similar to those known from other 1st-century BC contexts. The amphorae recovered from the wreck indicated a date of 80–70 BC, the Hellenistic pottery a date of 75–50 BC, and the Roman ceramics were similar to known mid-1st century types. However, any possible association with Sulla was eliminated when the coins discovered in the 1970s during work by Jacques Cousteau and associates were dated between 76 and 67 BC. Nevertheless, it is possible that the sunken cargo ship was en route to Rome or elsewhere in Italy with looted treasures to support a triumphal parade. Alternatively, perhaps the cargo was assembled on commission from a wealthy Roman patron.

Remains of hull planks showed that the ship was made of elm, a wood often used by the Romans in their ships. Eventually in 1964 a sample of the hull planking was carbon dated, and delivered a calibrated calendar date of 220 BC ± 43 years. The disparity in the calibrated radiocarbon date and the expected date based on the ceramics and coins was explained by the sample plank originating from an old tree cut much earlier than the ship's sinking event.

Further evidence for an early 1st-century BC sinking date came in 1974, when Yale University Professor Derek de Solla Price published his interpretation of the Antikythera mechanism. He argued that the object was a calendar computer. From gear settings and inscriptions on the mechanism's faces, he concluded that the mechanism was made about 87 BC and lost only a few years later.

New expeditions

In 2012, marine archeologist Brendan P. Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States received permission from the Greek Government to conduct new dives around the entire island of Antikythera. With project co-director Dr. Theotokis Theodoulou, the divers began a preliminary three-week survey in October 2012 using rebreather technology, to allow for extended dives down to a depth of 70 metres (230 ft), allowing a fuller, complete survey of the site. The team completed an underwater circumnavigation of the island, documented several isolated finds, relocated the Antikythera Wreck, and identified a second ancient shipwreck a few hundred meters south of the Antikythera Wreck.

The Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have continued investigations at Antikythera. In 2014 and 2015 they conducted robotic mapping surveys over the two ancient wreck sites, cooperating with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics of the University of Sydney. Subsequent excavations of the Antikythera Wreck in 2014-2016 delivered new finds from the ship itself: wood elements from the hull or decks, components of two anchors made of lead, an enormous lead salvage ring, lead hull sheeting, several bronze nails and spikes, and a bronze rigging ring. The wreck also relinquished many luxury goods including two large bronze spears from statues, the left hand of a marble statue, ornate glass bowls, intact ceramic jars of several different styles, and a gold ring very similar to the example recovered in 1976. One extraordinary find is an ancient weapon known as a dolphin, a 100 kilograms (220 lb) lead bulb tipped with an iron spike, intended to be dropped from the ship’s yardarm through the deck and hull of an attacking vessel. This is the only example of a war dolphin ever discovered. On 31 August 2016, a 2000-year old human skeleton nicknamed Pamphilos was discovered at the shipwreck. A new mission and excavation on September 2017 result in the recovery of a bronze arm together with other fragments of bronze and marble statues and the location of significant fragments of the skeleton and planking of part of the ship.

RELATED TOPICS: GreeceGreek tourism newsTourism in GreeceGreek islandsHotels in GreeceTravel to GreeceGreek destinations Greek travel marketGreek tourism statisticsGreek tourism report

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons Copyright: Marcus Cyron License: CC-BY-SA

 

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