Treasure salvaged from 2,000-year-old 'Titanic of the ancient world'
A diver with a metal detector holds a copper ship's fitting next to a vase at the site of the Antikythera wreck off the island of Antikythera in southern Greece. The ministry said a three-week underwater project to revisit the Roman-era wreck, first investigated more than a century ago, has completed detailed maps of the seabed and pinpointed potential metal artifacts. (Greek Culture Ministry / Brett Seymour)
Published Friday, October 10, 2014 1:54PM EDT
An international team of archeologists has salvaged a trove of 2,000-year-old treasures from a shipwreck at the bottom of the Aegean Sea.
The sunken ship was found off the Greek island of Antikythera more than a century ago, by divers who were blown off course by a storm.
Earlier this fall, using state-of-the-art equipment and semi-robotic metal diving suits, the divers descended 55-metres below sea level where they retrieved ancient tableware, ship components, and a two-metre long bronze spear likely belonged to a life-sized warrior statue, all dating back to between 60 BC and 70 BC.
“The evidence shows this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered,” Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute marine archaeologist Brendan Foley said in a statement.
“It’s the Titanic of the ancient world.”
This is not the first time the wreck has yielded treasures, however, as an expedition after it was discovered in 1900 saw divers retrieve a stunning haul including bronze and marble statues, gold jewellery, furniture, luxury glassware, and the Antikythera mechanism (a clock-like astronomical calculator.) In 1901, divers also found four giant marble horses.
Those expeditions ended after one diver died of decompression sickness and two others were paralyzed. Archeologists have always speculated whether there were more treasures to be found buried beneath the sea bed.
During this year’s excavation, which began in mid-September and wrapped up earlier this week, the researchers created a high-resolution, 3-D map of the site using cameras mounted on an autonomous underwater vehicle.
The finds are “very promising,” said Theotokis Theodolou, of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, a partner in this year’s expedition.
“We have lots of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets,” Theodolou said.
This recent excavation also found a beautiful, intact table jug, an ornate bed leg, multiple lead anchors which measured more than a metre long, and a bronze rigging ring with fragments of wood still attached.
Encouraged by the wood found attached to the bronze ring, researchers believe that the ship itself may be preserved beneath the sea bed.
Since the 1900 excavation, several teams have found antiquities, but none of the previous excavations used the state-of-the-art “rebreather” technology that is key to the semi-robotic metal Exosuits divers wore this year.
Wearing those suits, divers can safely descend 305 metres, and stay underwater for up three hours at a time.
The archaeologists are planning to return next year for another excavation.