Incredible find of classical statues at Antikythera shipwreck in Greece

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Incredible find of classical statues at Antikythera shipwreck in GreeceImpressive bronze arm among finds in rich ancient shipwreck

Greek Culture Ministry announced that archaeologists revisiting one of the most famous shipwrecks of ancient times off southern Greece  near Antikythera island have discovered fragments of bronze statues and a section of the wooden hull.

According to the ministry statement, divers raised a complete arm and a section of pleated clothing from statues, and compacted metal objects that have yet to be cleaned and separated.

The statement also noted that broken bronze and marble statues that were also located during last month’s expedition would be investigated during a future excavation as these finds are located under large boulders that covered them, probably following an earthquake. 

The 1st-century B.C. wreck of a large freighter discovered more than a century ago  between Crete and the Peloponnese has already yielded an ancient astronomical computer — known as the Antikythera Mechanism — as well as statues and thousands of other artifacts.

According to Guardian, the project team, from the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and Lund University in Sweden, discovered the buried arm with a bespoke underwater metal detector which has revealed the presence of other large metal objects nearby under the seabed. “There should be at least seven statues,” Alexandros Sotiriou, a Greek technical diver on the team told the Guardian. The operation is overseen by Ageliki Simosi, director of the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, which is responsible for all underwater archaeology in Greece.

“What we’re finding is these sculptures are in among and under the boulders,” said Brendan Foley, co-director of the excavations team at Lund University. “We think it means a minimum of seven, and potentially nine, bronze sculptures still waiting for us down there.” The boulders that overlie the metal objects weigh several tonnes and may have tumbled onto the wreck during a massive earthquake that shook Antikythera and surrounding islands in the 4th century AD.

The bronze arm, probably from a statue of a male, is the highlight of the team’s 2017 excavation season. Among other objects the divers recovered are a patterned slab of red marble the size of a tea tray, a silver tankard, sections of joined wood from the ship’s frame, and a human bone. Last year, the team found the skull, teeth, ribs and other bones of an individual who perished on the wreck. They have since extracted DNA from the skull and from it learned the individual’s sex and where they came from. Until those results are published, the person is known as Pamphilos after divers found the name, meaning “friend of all”, carved on a buried cup that had been decorated with an erotic scene. 

About the Antikythera shipwreck

The Antikythera wreck is a Roman-era shipwreck dating from the 2nd quarter of the 1st century BC. It was discovered by sponge divers off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900.

The wreck yielded numerous statues, coins and other artifacts dating back to the 4th century BC, as well as the severely corroded remnants of a device many regard as the world's oldest known analog computer, the Antikythera mechanism. These ancient artifacts, works of art, and elements of the ship itself are now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

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.

Read more here.

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: Tilemahos Efthimiadis License: CC-BY-SA

 

 

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