Antikythera Shipwreck Yields New Trove of Artifacts

Marine archaeologists have recovered a number of new artifacts, including a head of a Marble statue and numerous items from the ship’s equipment, from the famed 2,050-year-old Roman shipwreck off the remote island of Antikythera in Greece.

A head of a marble statue found at the Antikythera shipwreck. Image credit: Nikos Giannoulakis.

A head of a marble statue found at the Antikythera shipwreck. Image credit: Nikos Giannoulakis.

The Antikythera shipwreck was first discovered in October 1900 by a team of Greek sponge divers led by Captain Dimitrios Kondos.

It dates from the 1st century BCE (85-50 BCE) and is thought to have been carrying looted treasures from the coast of Asia Minor to Rome, to support a triumphal parade being planned for Julius Caesar.

The island of Antikythera stands in the middle of this major shipping route and the ship probably sank when a violent storm smashed it against the island’s sheer cliffs.

In 1901, the Greek divers recovered a rich collection of ancient artifacts from the wreck site, including bronze and marble statues, jewelry, furniture, luxury glassware, and a surprisingly complex device known as Antikythera Mechanism.

Constructed between 150 and 100 BCE, the latter was a mechanical computer of bronze gears that used ground-breaking technology to make astronomical predictions, by mechanizing astronomical cycles and theories.

“The main objective of the current five-year program (2021-2025) is to formulate a clearer and more acute understanding of the Antikythera ship, its route, its cargo and the wreckage conditions,” said Dr. Angeliki Simosi from the Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea and University of Geneva’s Professor Lorenz Baumer.

“The 2022 field research included the relocation of selected sizeable natural boulders that had partially covered the shipwreck area during an event that is under investigation, weighing up to 8.5 tons each; their removal gave access to a formerly unexplored part of the shipwreck.”

During the 2022 season, the underwater archaeologists found a marble head of a male bearded figure, bigger than life size, which at first sight can be identified with Herakles (Hercules) of the Farnese type.

“It most probably belongs to the headless statue of the so-called Herakles of Antikythera, which was retrieved by sponge divers in 1900,” they said.

The archaeologists also found the plinth of a marble statue with the lower parts of the legs.

Additionally, they found a number of objects from the ship’s equipment, such as bronze and iron nails, a lead collar of a sizeable wooden anchor, and amorphous iron concretion masses covered by marine deposits.

“Important information is expected to be extracted from two human teeth, discovered in a solid agglomerate of marine deposits together with fragments of copper, wood and other materials typical of a maritime disaster,” they said.

“Genetic and isotopic analysis of the teeth might be useful to deduce information on the genome and other characteristics relevant to the origin of the individuals they belonged to.”


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