sponge diver

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.


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.