The Antikythera shipwreck has been gaining attention for many years after a group of sponge fisherman originally discovered the ship remains in 1900. The sponge divers responsible for finding the ship were nearly in a wreck of their own after a strong storm surge caught them off guard while on their way home from Africa. The fishermen decided to pull off and wait out the storm at the Greek Island of Antikythera, where they continued to sponge dive.
Elias Stadiatis was the first to catch a glimpse of the shipwreck, he quickly returned to the surface describing a scene of rotting corpses and horses piled up on the ocean floor. At first the crew thought he was drunk off nitrogen, but others soon confirmed his discovery. The sponge divers collected as many small artifacts as they could before returning home to share of the incredible find.
Since then, archeologists have spent a great deal of time and effort excavating the sight. In 2013 and 2014 another expedition was approved at the site of the shipwreck, which extended between September and October and included participation from the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, Greece, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution based in the US.
The ship supposedly sank between 70-60 BC and then sat undiscvered for many years. Those onboard the vessel may have disappeared without a trace, the answer to their missing ship uncovered many years later, over 100-years ago today.
By mid-1901 the sponge divers along with the Greek Education Ministry and the Royal Hellenic Navy had uncovered many different artifacts, including statues, glasswork, and other ancient artifacts. All were brought to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
But in late 1901 the whole expedition was called off after one diver become paralyzed and another died due to decompression sickness. It wouldn’t be until the fall of 1976 that another diver would venture down into the depths, recovering yet more artifacts.
Some scholars believe the sunken ship was carrying loot belonging to the Roman General Sulla from Athens back in 86 BC, and that the ship may have been in route to Italy. This theory was born out of a writing discovered from Greek writer, Lucian, which described the sinking of one of Sulla’s ships near Antikythera.
Back in May of 1902, a particular object was identified out of the artifacts as being incredibly unique. This object has become known as the Antikythera mechanism, or astrolabe. This mechanical device was used to track time and is the world’s oldest artifact representing an analog computer or mechanized clock (pictured below).
The shipwreck is located 55 meters deep, and divers can only remain down at these depths for 3-hours at a time with the use of rebreathers. And so this last expedition marks the first time use of the Exosuit, an incredible robot-like invention that allows divers to remain underwater as long as 50-hours. This suit cost a staggering 1.3 million dollars, and is pictured below.
The latest underwater expedition turned up even more artifacts, including a giant bronze spear, ship components, and luxury tableware. Many parts of the ship are still in tact, and the entire ship takes up a remarkable amount of sea floor, leading estimates of the ship’s size to be around 50 meters long.
The team will return again next year because they believe there are still plenty of underwater treasures to find. Brendan Foley, a WHOI marine archaelogist on the team says he looks forward to finding more parts to the Antikythera Mechanism, or other automata.
Even after so many different dives by so many different teams over the last 100+ years, according to archeologist Theotokis Theodoulou, “We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets.”