Antikythera shipwreck yields new treasures – and hints of priceless classical statues

Marine archaeologists have recovered a bronze arm from an ancient shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, where the remains of at least seven more priceless statues from the classical world are believed to lie buried.

Divers found the right arm, encrusted and stained green, under half a metre of sediment on the boulder-strewn slope where the ship and its cargo now rest. The huge vessel, perhaps 50m from bow to stern, was sailing from Asia Minor to Rome in 1BC when it foundered near the tiny island between Crete and the Peloponnese.

The project team, from the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, discovered the buried arm with a bespoke underwater metal detector which has revealed the presence of other large metal objects nearby under the seabed. Read more.
115th Anniversary of the Antikythera Mechanism's Discovery
Today's Google Doodle

On this date in 1902, Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais sifted through some artifacts from a shipwreck at Antikythera. The wrecked Roman cargo ship was discovered two years earlier, but Stais was the first to notice an intriguing bit of bronze among the treasures. It looked like it might be a gear or wheel. That corroded chunk of metal turned out to be part of the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient analog astronomical computer.

The Antikythera Mechanism tracked planetary positions, predicted lunar and solar eclipses, and even signaled the next Olympic Games. It was probably also used for mapping and navigation. A dial on the front combines zodiacal and solar calendars, while dials on the back capture celestial cycles. Computer models based on 3-D tomography have revealed more than 30 sophisticated gears, housed in a wooden and bronze case the size of a shoebox.  


Skeleton found at the Antikythera shipwreck

  Divers have unearthed 2,000-year-old skeletal remains within the wreckage of a Roman-era cargo ship. Discovered by divers off the Greek island of Antikythera over 100 years ago, the shipwreck was where the famous Antikythera Mechanism - an ancient astronomical ‘computer’ - was found.

Now marine archaeologists working at the site have revealed that they have also uncovered the skeletal remains of one of the ship’s crew members.

The skeleton was found buried beneath sand and debris around 165ft below the surface and appears to be surprisingly well-preserved considering how long it has remained there.

If enough genetic material has survived intact it may even be possible for scientists to conduct a DNA analysis of the remains and learn a lot more about where this person originally came from.

“Archaeologists study the human past through the objects our ancestors created,” said marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

“With the Antikythera Shipwreck, we can now connect directly with this person who sailed and died aboard the Antikythera ship.”


May 17th 1902: Antikythera mechanism discovered

On this day in 1902, an odd mechanism discovered in a Greek shipwreck was identified as a form of ancient calculator. The wreck was discovered off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900 by sponge divers, and a number of artefacts - including statues, jewellery, pottery, and furniture - were recovered from the ship, dating from the first century BCE. The haul was sent to the National Museum of Archaelogy in Athens for analysis. In May 1902, archaelogist Valerios Stais discovered that one of the recovered objects - which initially appeared just a piece of rock - was in fact a wooden box housing a clockwork mechanism. However, it took decades before the importance of the find was realised. After the 1970s, X-ray imaging allowed scientists to infer that the device could be used for monitoring astronomical movement, tracking the cycles of the solar system. It was dubbed an ‘ancient Greek computer’, but scholars were skeptical until further research in the early 2000s. It was discovered that the device was operated by dials which moved the internal gearwheels to display celestial time - it was essentially a computer which could predict the positions of the sun, moon, and planets on any given date. The fascinating mechanism reveals the sophistication of Ancient Greek scientific and mathematical thinking.
Antikythera shipwreck yields bronze arm – and hints at spectacular haul of statues
Arm points to existence of at least seven statues from Greek shipwreck, already the source of most extensive and exciting ancient cargo ever found
By Ian Sample

Further fantastic finds from the Antikythera shipwreck. Interesting that the archaeologists speculate that a possible reason for the presence of the bronze statues may have been for their metal, rather than their artistic worth, given that they seem to be 300 years earlier than the wreck itself. 

The Antikythera mechanism is an early form of analogue computer used for astronomy. It was discovered in the early 20th century and is considered extremely advanced. Dating has placed the mechanism around the 1st century BC and similar levels of technology were not seen again until the 14th century.

Researchers are unsure of the mechanism’s origins and speculate that it may be from a Corinthian colony such as Syracuse or was perhaps from a city further east such as Pergamon in modern day Anatolia.

The mechanism was discovered on a shipwreck and a great deal of mystery surrounds it and it’s origins. One theory is that it was lost when being transported to Rome for the triumph of Julius Caesar. Whatever the case may be, it is an intriguing artefact and a great example of Hellenistic technology and engineering.

More can be read here


Ancient Greek Computer!

The Antikythera Mechanism (Wikipedia) (today’s Google Doodle!) proves that computers were invented thousands of years earlier than we once thought.

It’s an ancient Greek geared device, constructed around the end of the second century BCE. It calculated and displayed celestial information, particularly the phases of the moon, eclipses, and a luni-solar calendar. Calendars were important to ancient societies for timing agricultural activity and fixing festivals. People have always been interested in eclipses and planetary motion, and the calm regularity of the astronomical cycles must have been philosophically attractive in an uncertain and violent world.

Named after its place of discovery in 1901 in a Roman shipwreck, the Antikythera Mechanism is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterward. Its specific functions have remained controversial because its gears and the inscriptions upon its faces are only fragmentary.

The images and reconstructions here skow surface imaging and high-resolution X-ray tomography of the surviving fragments, enabling scientists to reconstruct the gear function and decipher the inscriptions. The mechanism predicted lunar and solar eclipses on the basis of Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles. The inscriptions, now lost, suggest mechanical display of planetary positions.

In the second century BC, Hipparchos developed a theory to explain the irregularities of the Moon’s motion across the sky caused by its elliptic orbit. This device is a mechanical realization of this theory, revealing an unexpected degree of technical sophistication for the period.

For more info, check out this article, “Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism: Investigation of an Ancient Astronomical Calculator,” from Nature, Volume 444: X

Human skeleton found on famed Antikythera shipwreck

Hannes Schroeder snaps on two pairs of blue latex gloves, then wipes his hands with a solution of bleach. In front of him is a large Tupperware box full of plastic bags that each contain sea water and a piece of red-stained bone. He lifts one out and inspects its contents as several archaeologists hover behind, waiting for his verdict. They’re hoping he can pull off a feat never attempted before — DNA analysis on someone who has been under the sea for 2,000 years.

Through the window, sunlight sparkles on cobalt water. The researchers are on the tiny Greek island of Antikythera, a 10-minute boat ride from the wreckage of a 2,000-year-old merchant ship. Discovered by sponge divers in 1900, the wreck was the first ever investigated by archaeologists. Its most famous bounty to date has been a surprisingly sophisticated clockwork device that modelled the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets in the sky — dubbed the ‘Antikythera mechanism’.

But on 31 August this year, investigators made another groundbreaking discovery: a human skeleton, buried under around half a metre of pottery sherds and sand. Read more.

The origin of the mechanism
There is some dispute over the actual creator or creators of the mechanism, some believe it to be from the Hipparchos school, Hipparchos is considered by some to be the greatest astronomical observer of the ancient world. Others feel it was Archimedes who is responsible for the creation of the mechanism or at least partially responsible for its design. 


Lego Antikythera Mechanism (by NatureVideoChannel)