Antikythera wreck

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Coordinates: 35°53′23″N 23°18′28″E / 35.8897°N 23.3078°E / 35.8897; 23.3078

Antikythera wreck is located in Greece
Antikythera wreck
Antikythera wreck
The Antikythera wreck lies off the Greek island of Antikythera on the edge of the Aegean Sea, northwest of Crete

The Antikythera wreck is a Roman-era shipwreck dating from the 2nd quarter of the 1st century BC.[1][2] 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.


The Antikythera mechanism (Fragment A - front)

Around Easter 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kondos and his crew of sponge divers from Syme 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 dressescanvas 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. [3] [4]

Artifact recovery[edit]

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, the former Minister of Education, Spyridon Stais, made the most celebrated find while studying the artifacts 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.[5]

The wreck remained untouched until 1953 when French naval officer and explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau visited briefly to relocate the site.[6] 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.[7]


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.

Bronze head of bearded man with furrowed brow and unruly hair
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.[2] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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[edit]

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 SCUBA 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.[10]

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 a 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.[11][12] 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.[13] This is the only example of a war dolphin ever discovered. [14] On 31 August 2016, a 2000-year old human skeleton nicknamed Pamphilos was discovered at the shipwreck.[15][16]



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "The Antikythera Shipwreck. The Ship, The Treasures, The Mechanism. National Archaeological Museum, April 2012 – April 2013". Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism; National Archaeological Museum. Editors Nikolaos Kaltsas & Elena Vlachogianni & Polyxeni Bouyia. Athens: Kapon, 2012, ISBN 978-960-386-031-0.
  3. ^ Ephemeris Archaeology, 1902
  4. ^ Gladys Davidson Weinberg; Virginia R. Grace; G. Roger Edwards; Henry S. Robinson; Peter Throckmorton; Elizabeth K. Ralph "The Antikythera Shipwreck Reconsidered" Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Ser., Vol. 55, No. 3. (1965), pp. 3-48.
  5. ^ Freeth, T.; Bitsakis, Y.; Moussas, X.; Seiradakis, J. H.; Tselikas, A.; Mangkou, E.; Zafeiropulou, M.; Hadland, R.; Bate, D.; Ramsey, A.; Allen, M.; Crawley, A.; Hockley, P.; Malzbender, T.; Gelb, D.; Ambrisco, W.; Edmunds, M. G. (2006). "Decoding the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism". Nature. 444 (7119): 587–591. Bibcode:2006Natur.444..587F. doi:10.1038/nature05357. PMID 17136087. 
  6. ^ Frederic Dumas, 30 Centuries Under the Sea, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1976
  7. ^ "Jacques-Yves Cousteau". 
  8. ^ "Ancient 'Computer' Starts To Yield Secrets". Archived from the original on 13 March 2007. Retrieved 23 March 2007. 
  9. ^ Gladys Davidson Weinberg; Virginia R. Grace; G. Roger Edwards; Henry S. Robinson; Peter Throckmorton; Elizabeth K. Ralph "The Antikythera Shipwreck Reconsidered" Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Ser., Vol. 55, No. 3. (1965), pp. 3-48.
  10. ^ Marchant, Jo. Return To Antikythera: Divers Revisit Wreck Where Ancient Computer Found, The Guardian, 2 October 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  11. ^ "Antikythera shipwreck: treasures from the deep – in pictures". 2013-03-18. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  12. ^ "Antikythera wreck yields new treasures". BBC. 9 October 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  13. ^ 2,000-Year-Old Antikythera Shipwreck Famous For ‘Ancient Computer’ Yields New Treasures...and there may be more discoveries still to come. by Ed Mazza on 06/21/2016, published by "The Huffington Post"
  14. ^ WHOI press release
  15. ^ Marchant, Jo (2016-09-19). "Human skeleton found on famed Antikythera shipwreck - Two-thousand-year-old bones could yield first DNA from an ancient shipwreck victim". Nature. Retrieved 2016-09-20. 
  16. ^ hda/AFP (2016-09-20). "Wrack vor Griechenland Skelett in "Titanic der Antike" entdeckt" (in German). Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2016-09-20 – via AP/ARGO/The Greek Culture Ministry. 


  • P. Kabbadias, The Recent Finds off Cythera The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 21. (1901), pp. 205–208.
  • Gladys Davidson Weinberg; Virginia R. Grace; G. Roger Edwards; Henry S. Robinson; Peter Throckmorton; Elizabeth K. Ralph, "The Antikythera Shipwreck Reconsidered", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Ser., Vol. 55, No. 3. (1965), pp. 3–48.
  • Derek de Solla Price, "Gears from the Greeks. The Antikythera Mechanism: A Calendar Computer from ca. 80 B. C." Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Ser., Vol. 64, No. 7. (1974), pp. 1–70.
  • Nigel Pickford, The Atlas of Ship Wrecks & Treasures, p 13–15, ISBN 0-86438-615-X.
  • Willard Bascom, Deep water, ancient ships: The treasure vault of the Mediterranean, ISBN 0-7153-7305-6.
  • Giovanni Pastore, THE RECOVERED ARCHIMEDES PLANETARIUM, Rome (2013), ISBN 9788890471544

Further reading[edit]

Jo Marchant (2015) Smithsonian Magazine "Exploring the Titanic of the Ancient World"]

External links[edit]